Ambulance wait times are as long as a day in Hong Kong amid an Omicron surge.

Ambulance wait times are as long as a day in Hong Kong amid an Omicron surge.

Waiting for an ambulance in Hong Kong can take more than a day as the city reels from a surge in Omicron cases and its hospitals, doctors and nurses are stretched thin.

One-third of Hong Kong’s ambulance workers have tested positive for the coronavirus or are quarantining because they are close contacts of positive cases. That’s nearly 1,000 employees, said Saphine Yip at the Fire Services Department.

The longest wait time for an ambulance was a day and 15 hours, she said.

Officials are battling the city’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with 56,827 cases reported on Thursday. The city has recorded 1,153 deaths since the Omicron variant began to spread in January, and a majority of deaths have been among the older people who are not vaccinated.

For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong avoided huge outbreaks by employing tough border controls and social distancing rules. For the better part of the past two years, officials recorded single- or double-digit daily cases, and most of those were considered imported cases from travelers who had recently arrived in Hong Kong and were still in quarantine.

Once a model for how to control a pandemic, Hong Kong is becoming a cautionary tale, with scenes that recall the earliest — and most fearful — days of the pandemic. Hospitals have run out of beds in isolation wards and are operating at near full occupancy rate and dead bodies have piled up in hospital hallways because of limited manpower to move the dead to public morgues.

Health care workers and emergency responders have been faced with soaring demand for their services from the public, and officials have appealed to those with mild symptoms to stay home instead of using up precious government resources.

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