Beds and furniture sit inside cubicles in a quarantine facility at the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong on Aug. 1, 2020.

Beds and furniture sit inside cubicles in a quarantine facility at the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong on Aug. 1, 2020. (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg)

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Hong Kong will reopen one of its biggest Covid-19 isolation facilities as case numbers hit the highest in more than four months, putting strain on the hospital system and sparking uncertainty around whether the city can further ease virus policies.

Officials will have an additional 200 beds at Asia World Expo starting next week, with 100 health care workers to staff the facility, Lau Ka-hin, chief manager of quality and standards at the Hospital Authority, said at a briefing on Friday. It's part of a new stage of Covid management to alleviate pressure on the health-care system. Non-emergency services at hospitals will also be further reduced in order to free up beds and manpower, he said.

Hong Kong reported 6,445 new cases, the highest since the end of March when the city was exiting a wave of infections that at one stage was the deadliest in the world. There are 1,898 Covid patients in hospitals, including 25 serious cases, 36 in critical condition and 10 in intensive care.

"We are very concerned," said Lau. "We've come to a very key moment and we are worried that the situation may deteriorate further."

The increase in daily infections is being fueled by more transmissible omicron subvariants and, while it follows this month's easing of quarantine rules for inbound travelers, imported cases make up a fraction of the total tally. Still, it casts uncertainty over whether there will be a further relaxation of measures as Hong Kong seeks to revive its reputation as a global financial hub.

Optimism had also been building that the city's plan to host a high-level, government-sponsored financial forum in November, as well as a rugby tournament the same month, could become an opportunity for the city to open up.

The rising number of cases are likely to be a hurdle in Hong Kong's plans to reopen its border with mainland China, with discussions last year scuppered by swelling infections in the city. The Hong Kong government is studying whether it can offer quarantine services to local travelers trying to enter China, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported this week.

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