Hong Kong’s respected public health system is floundering. The fifth wave of coronavirus infections has overwhelmed it with the living and the dead. Hospitals are too stretched to see new patients within reasonable times and hospitals are storing corpses in hallways and even in accident and emergency departments because mortuaries are nearing capacity. If any evidence was needed that the situation is dire, it is to be found in the arrival of a top mainland expert, Liang Wannian, to advise Hong Kong as daily reported infections reached a record of more than 34,400 on Monday. It is to be hoped this can help give the city’s pandemic response a better sense of direction. It is badly needed to quell rising frustration, especially among parents, and restore public confidence undermined by policy flip-flopping and uncertainty. The latest example is the refusal of Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee to rule out a citywide lockdown for the compulsory universal Covid-19 testing drive later this month. This is a U-turn that apparently spurred another round of panic buying across the city. The government previously said it had no plans to impose a lockdown. Chan said a final decision was yet to be made, but “to make the best use of universal testing, we must reduce the flow of people … and citizens should not go out”. Meanwhile, frustration with severely strained public health services has driven mothers with sick children to take to social media to share their experiences of waiting up to 13 hours in congested areas of emergency departments for treatment at public hospitals, or of hours trying to make appointments at government clinics. Liang is here ahead of the expected arrival soon of up to 9,000 mainland personnel to help carry out the screening of every resident, and the opening of isolation facilities for mild Covid-19 cases and temporary hospitals. The implementation of the logistics of these operations and clear, consistent messaging of information are crucial, especially about the mass testing. Hong Kong shoppers in panic-buying frenzy over lockdown fears The overwhelming of mortuaries, only now prompting steps for alternative storage of bodies, reflects a pattern of unpreparedness for the fifth wave, whether it be in hospitals, quarantine arrangements, care homes, ambulance services and so on. A major contributing factor, however, is Chinse culture in that families do not normally hold funerals in the first month of Lunar New Year, compounded by Covid restrictions and infections. Now that Hong Kong has coordinated support from the mainland, it is well past time for the government to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the latest wave of infection and stay there and on message, instead of flip-flopping and playing catch-up.