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People commute on a train in Hong Kong on March 15, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Hong Kong: Hong Kong will close its beaches starting Thursday, local media reported, days after residents enjoying the sand and waves caused an outcry across the border where authorities were locking down the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen.

Beaches will be cordoned off by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to prevent the public from entering, the Hong Kong Economic Times and other outlets reported, without citing sources. The city previously closed its beaches in July 2021 for several months during an earlier flareup.

Facilities such as bathrooms and lifeguard services have been suspended since January as local transmission of the virus continue. The city’s renowned country parks also shut down all barbecue and camping sites, while groups of more than two people are forbidden.

The decision to close beaches came as new infections continued to batter the city and many local schools are closed for most of March and April, rather than the normal summer holidays in July and August.

It also follows complaints stemming from pictures of residents at the beach, many unmasked, that went viral on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The post attracted more than 126,000 likes and 5,000 comments on Monday before it was removed. Many slammed Hong Kong residents as selfish and called for the withdrawal of support, including health workers who are coming to help care for the infected.

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The Leisure and Cultural Services Department declined to comment on the closure, saying in a statement that any changes to curbs will be announced in due course.

Meanwhile, A former top government adviser condemned Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday, calling for her to “resign in shame” over a deadly COVID-19 wave that has clogged the city’s healthcare system and sent elderly deaths soaring.

Former government adviser Wong Chack-kie joins a chorus of pro-Beijing loyalists in criticising Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a politically sensitive juncture for the city with a new leader to be selected by July 1.

Key Chinese officials - including President Xi Jinping - are also expected to be in town by that date for the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China.

But Hong Kong’s 740,000 plus cases and 4,300 deaths in under three months - mostly inside the city’s care homes - have seen Lam’s administration rebuked for its low vaccination rates and unclear messaging around potential lockdown and testing measures.

“If a leader is of any virtue, he or she should resign in shame after seeing so many elderly people die of policy faults,” Wong wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday in the Ming Pao newspaper, calling the crisis a “man-made calamity”.

“After the situation got out of hand, all the officials knew was to shirk the responsibilities by repeatedly emphasising that the outbreak had overwhelmed the government’s capacity,” the former top adviser to Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying said.