Hong Kong will postpone the election of its next leader so that it can focus on containing a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, the city’s chief executive said on Friday.
The leader of Hong Kong is not elected by the public, but by an “election committee” of more than 1,400 backers of China’s Communist Party. The vote by that committee, which was to take place on March 27, was rescheduled for May 8, said the chief executive, Carrie Lam.
She also announced a plan to introduce mandatory testing for the city’s entire population of 7.5 million. She had previously rejected calls from pro-Beijing lawmakers to introduce mandatory universal testing.
“Our government needs to focus on the epidemic,” Mrs. Lam said at a news conference on Friday. “We cannot afford to lose.”
Hong Kong is experiencing its worst wave of the pandemic yet, with patients waiting on sidewalks outside overwhelmed hospitals, and quarantine facilities reaching capacity. On Friday, over 3,600 new cases were reported. Before this week, the city had never seen more than 2,000 daily new cases.
Mrs. Lam said that the city was not planning to go into lockdown as it continues to use a “dynamic zero” approach, aiming to crush each virus outbreak.
“In our case, having examined the unique situation in Hong Kong, we’ll probably just go for universal testing of everyone, but testing more times,” she said on Friday.
Before the Omicron surge, Hong Kong had largely managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. It has recorded 240 Covid deaths over the past two years, including the 10 deaths reported on Friday.
Earlier this month, the city put into place its most restrictive social-distancing rules yet, including limiting to two the number of households allowed to meet in private. The rapid rise in cases pushed the city to stop hospitalizing all Covid patients and to instead instruct some people with few or no symptoms to quarantine at government centers or at home.
Mrs. Lam, who was elected in 2017, has not said whether she will run again.
China is tightening its grip on Hong Kong through a national security law and a sweeping crackdown on dissent. In 2020, the Hong Kong government postponed the city’s September legislative election by one year, citing the pandemic. The pro-democracy opposition saw the move as an attempt to slow its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates.