HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Friday (Mar 4) announced it would suspend court services for a month as the city recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day.
The finance hub is in the throes of its worst outbreak to date, overwhelming hospitals and shattering the city's zero-COVID strategy.
The judiciary said it would adjourn most hearings between Mar 7 and Apr 11 after "striking a balance between public health considerations and due administration of justice".
Authorities said on Wednesday around 1,000 prisoners have tested positive and local media reported that judges had also been infected.
The suspension excludes ongoing hearings and urgent applications while some in-person proceedings will be dealt with on paper instead.
The judiciary added that it may need to further cut back operations in light of the mandatory virus testing slated for the city's entire population later this month.
Hong Kong on Friday saw 52,523 new infections bringing the total to more than 390,000 since the highly transmissible Omicron variant broke through.
There have been 1,341 deaths in the latest wave among a population of 7.4 million, with more than half of the deceased being elderly people living in care homes.
While nearly 90 per cent of Hong Kong residents have received at least one vaccine dose, the figure falls to 67 per cent for those aged 70 or above.
Coronavirus cases have been found in more than 70 per cent of Hong Kong's elderly care homes, with at least 13 per cent of residents infected, officials said Friday.
Hong Kong has called on the help of mainland Chinese authorities to contain the worsening crisis, with Chinese personnel crossing the border to help construct medical facilities and increase testing capacity.
Xia Baolong, Beijing's top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs, said Thursday that local authorities must "shoulder arduous responsibility" to fight the epidemic, according to Chinese state media.
Xia also called on Hong Kong officials to "forcefully expose, criticise and sanction" anti-China forces in order to maintain stability in the city.
Meanwhile, one of Hong Kong's largest supermarket chains and a major pharmacy chain both announced rationing of staple goods after facing a wave of panic buying this week.
Some supermarket shelves have been stripped bare in the wake of mixed messaging from Hong Kong's top officials on whether there will be a lockdown.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the government will conduct citywide virus testing this month and that measures will be taken to reduce the public's movement, though no details have been announced.
Lam promised this week that Hong Kong would not go into "wholesale city lockdown" during the testing.