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A woman walks next to empty shelves for noodles after residents concerned with possible shortages stock up on food, at a supermarket Hong Kong on March 6, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Hong Kong: Hong Kong reported 31,008 new COVID-19 cases and 153 deaths on Sunday as the city’s chief secretary said residents should not worry about a looming mass testing scheme, with details to be announced and authorities ensuring a steady supply of food.

The global financial hub is clinging to a “dynamic zero” coronavirus strategy as a massive spike in infections pushed hospitals, isolation centres and funeral parlours beyond capacity. Health experts said around 15% of the city’s 7.4 million residents are already infected.

The comments by Chief Secretary John Lee on his blog, came as supermarket shelves were stripped for a seventh consecutive day, with anxious residents stocking up on products left on shelves from tofu and soy sauce to frozen vegetables.

As infections and deaths hit record highs, Hong Kong has implemented its most draconian restrictions, with restrictions on public gatherings of more than two people, most venues closed and flights banned into the city from countries including the United States and Britain.

The government has repeatedly tried to reassure residents after widespread chaos this week due to authorities’ mixed messaging over whether a city-wide lockdown would take place and the almost daily tweaking of COVID rules.

While city leader Carrie Lam has said the Chinese-ruled hub will not have a full-blown lockdown during the mass testing, residents remain unnerved about what to expect.

The former British colony has had more than 470,000 COVID infections. Most of the roughly 1,800 deaths have been in the past two weeks, many of them unvaccinated elderly residents as infections have spread in hundreds of nursing homes.

The surge in infections has crippled manpower in the healthcare system, for public transport, mall operators as well as postal services, supermarkets and pharmacies.

Many restaurants and stores have been shuttered with main districts eerily quiet and few residents out in typically busy neighbourhoods.