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Hong Kong leader says it’s possible to further delay election of chief executive

HONG KONG, March 16 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Wednesday there were no plans to tighten COVID-19 rules any further as the city battles to contain an escalation in the pandemic. outbreak, but said an election for the chief executive, scheduled for May, was likely to be further delayed.

Lam told a daily press briefing that “legally speaking” it was possible to further delay the election of the next leader of the global financial hub.

“A new deadline cannot be decided by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region itself, it depends on how the central government sees it,” she added.

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The election was originally scheduled to be held on March 27, but was postponed to May 8 as a wave of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron broke out in the Chinese-ruled city in February.

Lam, who has yet to confirm whether she will seek another term, has seen her administration come under pressure from President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese officials over Hong Kong’s handling of the virus.

Chinese netizens have also expressed anger and frustration in recent days over Hong Kong residents flocking to beaches and shopping malls as they face lockdowns in their own cities.

Some said Hong Kong had failed to control its outbreak and blamed the city for the latest wave of infections on the mainland.

Hong Kong has reported more than 760,000 COVID-19 infections and around 4,500 deaths, most in the past three weeks.

The former British colony has followed mainland China’s “dynamic zero” policy which aims to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur, instead of trying to live with the virus.

But deaths have risen, especially among its mostly unvaccinated elderly, with the city recording the most deaths per million people in the world in the week to March 14, according to the publication Our World in Data.

Several local media reported that the government would close beaches from Thursday to prevent large gatherings.

Lam said that since public beaches are already supposed to be closed, authorities would only “strengthen management”, for example by cordoning them off.

The city is already facing its most draconian measures since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited, most places are closed – including schools – and masks are mandatory everywhere, even when exercising outdoors.

Hong Kong’s borders were effectively sealed for two years with few flights able to land and most transit passengers banned.

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Reporting by Farah Master, Jessie Pang and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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