The city leader says Hong Kong lacks resources for a China-style pandemic response.

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The city leader says Hong Kong lacks resources for a China-style pandemic response.

Hong Kong is struggling to deal with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic, warning it does not have the testing capacity to meet the strict strategy handed down by Beijing.

In Shenzhen and Shanghai, as in mainland China, authorities banned millions of people from testing every single resident within days of the local outbreak. But Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that her city does not have the same capacity.

“Hong Kong is very different from many mainland cities and so we can’t have any comparisons,” Mrs Lam told reporters at a news conference.

The difference lies in resources and systems of governance, Mrs Lam said. Shenzhen and Shanghai can test millions of people a day; Hong Kong’s health authorities can only test between 200,000 and 300,000 people a day.

It is a strategy that has been set forth by Beijing, but a strategy that is out of reach for Hong Kong, continuing the independence that existed in the mainland.

In the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Xian, authorities halted daily life and confined residents to their homes for weeks until there were no more local cases. In Tianjin, they began testing every single resident after just 20 cases of the coronavirus were reported.

Setting aside Hong Kong’s approach to the mainland, Mrs Lam said she would not consider tightening social-distancing measures as she would have to focus on how residents felt about them.

Mrs Lam said: “I have to consider whether the public will accept further measures, so we will not just recklessly implement further measures.”

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The outbreak and Mrs Lam’s ability to bring it under control have been seen as a test of her leadership, although this is not determined by ordinary Hong Kongers. The city’s next leader will be elected on May 8 and will be decided by an “election committee” of more than 1,400 people loyal to the Communist Party of China.

Ever since she first raised the prospect in mid-February, Mrs Lam has been under pressure from the public to set a deadline for mass testing.

Fears of a Wuhan or Xian type of lockdown have prompted residents to empty supermarket shelves and hoard medicine. It has also led to an exodus of the city’s expatriate community, many of whom are tired of two years of strict pandemic measures and uncertainty about how and when the city’s restrictions will end.

“If you want us to follow Shenzhen, which is to start mandatory universal testing within three days, I’m afraid we’re not ready for that,” Mrs Lam said. “It’s a reality we have to face.”

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