Hong Kong will close public beaches from Thursday in a further tightening of social-distancing rules as the city continues to record tens of thousands of daily Covid-19 infections, which now total 3.6 million according to a new university study. A source familiar with government policy told the Post on Tuesday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could announce the beach closures as soon as Wednesday, after stating earlier that current rules banning public gatherings were already tough enough. “Too many people have gone to the beach unmasked and pictures have also shown a lot of them had ignored the ban on gatherings of more than two people,” the source said, adding that the move would only affect the 42 beaches managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Hong Kong on Tuesday confirmed 27,765 new coronavirus cases – including 15,809 infections detected using rapid antigen tests – and reported 289 deaths, including backlogged numbers. The city’s overall Covid-19 tally stood at 761,550, but health officials said the number did not reflect the actual situation as asymptomatic patients might remain untested. The latest update to the infection forecast made by the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of medicine estimated that 3.6 million resident were infected and 4.5 million would catch Covid-19 during the entire fifth wave, while the death toll would reach 5,102. The number of fatalities since the wave began in late December stood at 4,355. It projected a significant drop in the number of daily cases towards the end of March, with the daily caseload expected to fall below 1,000 by the end of April and to below 100 by mid-May. But the researchers, led by government pandemic adviser Professor Gabriel Leung, noted they had begun to detect a slight uptick in population mobility based on Octopus card usage in public transport over the weekend. “This could well portend a fundamental change in transmission dynamics that would render our assumptions inaccurate, thus underestimating the forward burden of the fifth wave,” they said. The researchers also said they “optimistically” assumed the stated antiviral efficacies of the two Covid-19 oral drugs the city is stockpiling, molnupiravir and Paxlovid, were the same for unvaccinated and vaccinated patients, even though clinical trials of both drugs were only conducted among patients who had not received any jabs. A day earlier, Kwok Kin-on, an assistant professor at Chinese University’s School of Public Health, estimated about 5 million residents would be infected by June, while the death toll would reach 7,000. The daily number of infections would not drop into the four digits until late May and would only return to the 100 mark about a month later, he said. The first batch of 75 mainland doctors, nurses and other health professionals arrived from Guangdong on Monday and will mainly be assigned to a new treatment facility at AsiaWorld-Expo, where hundreds of mostly elderly patients with mild symptoms are being isolated. In a bid to address any ambiguities relating to their legal liability, the Hospital Authority said on Monday night it would bear ultimate responsibility for the mainland workers. The team was briefed on Tuesday morning about procedures for treating patients, prescribing drugs and administering first aid, along with other operational arrangements, it said, adding they would officially start work in the next few days. A spokesman for the authority noted that the mainland practitioners were employed as honorary staff and covered by insurance. Dr Tony Ling Siu-chi, president of the Public Doctors’ Association, told a radio programme on Tuesday that major decisions, such as giving out medication or discharging a patient, could only be carried out after communicating with the Hong Kong staff and a consensus was reached. First of 1,000 medical workers from mainland China arrive to help Hong Kong’s Covid fight Ling also questioned whether the reporting and investigation mechanisms for medical incidents involving the mainland team would be the same as the existing ones for local professionals. “Since the mainland medical staff are not registered in the city, patients cannot lodge complaints to the Medical Council of Hong Kong about the alleged professional misconduct of the medical practitioner,” he said. Alex Lam Chi-yau of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices also said the Medical Council of Hong Kong had no way to rule on the liability of any complaints involving the mainland practitioners, which might affect patients seeking to pursue legal action. “Usually when a complaint is established by the council, it can help [patients make] civil claims in the court,” Lam told the same programme. “But now, without this monitoring mechanism, some residents will feel that there is a fly in the ointment.” Ex-Hong Kong minister says government’s ‘many shortcomings’ exposed by pandemic Dr Lau Ka-hin, a chief manager of the HA, said staff from both sides would work as a team and share the workload and responsibility. “They [mainland staff] are all elites. Apart from taking care of patients, they would also provide important advice and share their experience with us on how to treat the patients,” he said. The authority will also dispatch special staff to assist the mainland team in performing medical procedures and obtaining necessary clinical information, as well as help patients communicate with them as needed, he said. The mainland team, led by Professor Yu Tao from Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital in Guangzhou, was recruited from 14 medical units in the Guangdong provincial capital, Shenzhen, Foshan and Zhuhai. Self-isolating Hongkongers criticise slow handout of supplies during Covid wave The Post has reported that another 300 medical professionals from the mainland are expected to arrive later this week, with 1,000 more to follow. Dr David Lam Tzit-yuen, the lawmaker for the medical and health services sector, said residents should not be worried about the mainland staff given they were experienced in handling Covid-19 patients. “China has a leading position in the world in studying the coronavirus. The teams are also led by their top experts. I don’t understand why people would have to worry about their professional abilities,” Lam said. Former HA chief executive Leung Pak-yin said the government should avoid adding to the burden of the mainland, which is undergoing its own surge in cases, as he expected the Hong Kong’s caseload would start to drop in two or three weeks. “The epidemic on the mainland has rebounded rapidly in recent days and spread all over the country,” he wrote on social media. “I hope that the government can take into into account the anti-epidemic needs of the mainland and accurately assess the needs of Hong Kong, so as not to increase the mainland’s anti-epidemic burden.” While the team’s arrival marks the first time Beijing has sent mainland doctors and nurses to practice in the city, it has dispatched medical experts to other regions fighting the coronavirus. In March 2020, the Red Cross Society of China led a team to Italy with supplies and equipment after the local government requested help. China also provided assistance to Iran and Iraq the same year.