Beijing: Multiple Chinese cities have announced cash rewards for tip-offs about people illegally crossing into the mainland from Hong Kong which is experiencing a massive fifth COVID-19 wave, overwhelming the local health system, state media reported on Saturday.

Zhuhai, Huizhou and Dongguan in China’s south Guangdong province close to Hong Kong have announced cash rewards for people who report suspected illegal crossings from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) amid reports of people fleeing to mainland by road and sea to escape the spread of the contagion, state-run Global Times reported on Saturday.

Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, reported 6,063 infections in addition to 7,400 preliminary-positive cases on Saturday, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

With the death of 15 patients, the coronavirus-related death toll reached 280. The latest infections brought the overall tally to 46,763 cases.

Such was the caseload that hundreds of suspected COVID-19 patients, who were forced to wait outside public hospitals for admission over the past few days, had now been moved indoors.

As the situation deteriorated, reports say Hong Kong is busy converting auditoriums and dormitories to accommodate surging cases even as it plans to build a Wuhan style makeshift hospital to accommodate hundreds of patients.

Chinese cities Zhuhai and Dongguan have announced cash rewards capped at 100,000 yuan (USD 15,785) for tip-offs for suspected smuggling of Hong Kongers by vehicle or boat.

The reward for reporting group smuggling is 30,000 yuan (over USD 4,600) and 10,000 yuan (over USD 1,500) for individuals illegally crossing the border, according to official notices.

Chenzhou and Nan’an cities also released similar notices against the backdrop of five confirmed COVID-19 cases being found among 15 who were smuggled from Hong Kong to the mainland via Zhuhai by boat on February 14.

Upon arrival in Zhuhai, some travelled to other mainland cities, leading to flare-ups in cases — two each in Chenzhou and Guangzhou and one in Shanghai, the Global Times reported.

As the situation deteriorated in Hong Kong, China deployed Wang Hesheng, director of the country’s newly-established National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control, who was earlier sent to Wuhan where the coronavirus first emerged in December 2019, to bring the situation under control.

Wang took charge at the pandemic control outpost in Shenzhen on Wednesday, attending a high-level coordination group meeting, presided over by the central government’s top official for Hong Kong Xia Baolong, the Post reported.

On the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed the Hong Kong government to shoulder the main responsibility of tackling its exponentially growing coronavirus outbreak and to mobilise all forces and resources to protect lives and ensure stability.

Beijing’s calling in a big-gun like Wang is indicative of the top leadership’s grave concerns over the pandemic situation in Hong Kong.

The worry is that it is getting rapidly out of hand and posing a major risk of spillover to the mainland, said Junfei Wu, a researcher at the Hong Kong China Economic and Cultural Development Association.

With a daily increment of over 3,000 (cases), Hong Kong’s total confirmed infections, now standing at 40,000 plus, are set to surpass the total in the (2020) Wuhan outbreak. There is certainly a need to bring Wang, who has prior experience to contain an outbreak of such a scale, to the frontline, Wu told the Post.

The situation in Hong Kong is so grave that the election for the chief executive of HKSAR, originally scheduled for March 27, is postponed to May 8, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday.

Also read: COVID: lifting the remaining curbs a dangerous, senseless move

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