Two months ago, Hong Kong was on the brink of declaring victory over Covid-19. There had been no community outbreak for weeks and the opening of the border with mainland China seemed imminent. But there was a risk the highly transmissible Omicron variant would breach the city’s defences. Now it is here, Hong Kong faces a crisis. Case numbers have soared to record levels. The public health service is overwhelmed. The virus has hit care homes for the elderly and hospitals. Tragically, the first Omicron deaths are being reported. Living with the virus is no longer a choice. It is reality. The government’s dynamic zero-Covid approach is struggling to keep up. Attempts to test, track and isolate those who test positive are causing much stress and disruption to people’s lives. My experience of mass testing last week was relatively painless. But the attempt to test a community of more than 20,000 people in Discovery Bay plus recent visitors in a few days provided insight into the problems the city faces, even though it is not a typical part of Hong Kong. The leafy resort-style development is popular with expats and local professionals. Hundreds were already in the queue, snaking up a steep hill, even though I arrived 20 minutes before the centre opened on the first day. I felt sorry for the elderly and infirm who struggled up the slope. They looked as if they might not make it to the end of the line, let alone survive the pandemic. I queued for more than an hour in this mass gathering with no social distancing. In the end, I got a ticket not a test and was told to return at 5.15pm. The person in front of me was told 6.15pm. It was a bit random. When I went back, my test was swift and, thankfully, negative. Hongkongers rue cost of ‘washouts’ to return to city battling spike in local cases Not everyone was so fortunate. Many in the queue were told to return the next morning. Some engaged in an angry exchange with staff and police. In the following days, early birds joined the line before dawn. Others used public transport to reach testing centres at the airport or Tung Chung. There was, however, a positive side. The much-maligned DB community, often seen as privileged and pampered, rose to the occasion. People provided chairs for the elderly and water for the thirsty. There were appeals for volunteers to deliver food to those isolating at home after testing positive and to look after their pets when they go to hospital. This is the sort of community spirit needed at this difficult time. How much the testing exercise achieved is open to question. It clearly created a risk of transmission. The centre in DB closed a day early, with resources needed elsewhere. I suspect many residents will fail to meet today’s deadline. Similar scenes – and even longer queues – are being witnessed all over the city. Coronavirus: what is Hong Kong’s dynamic zero-infection strategy? The next few weeks will be critical. The government is in a bind. The tough antivirus measures adopted on the mainland are not feasible or desirable in Hong Kong. The city must be allowed to chart a path suitable to its own unique circumstances. But there is still a need to curb the spread of the virus so that those most vulnerable to it can get vaccinated. The focus should be on ensuring hospital beds are available to those who most need them and urgently pushing up the vaccination rate. It has crept over 80 per cent. But the level among the elderly remains shockingly low. Only now, with people dying, is there a rush to get a first jab. It should have happened long ago. There will come a time for reflection. Hong Kong should have been better prepared. Perhaps the success of the zero-Covid approach last year created a false sense of security. Now, there is a need for common sense and a sense of common purpose to help the city find its way through the crisis.