Hong Kong until recently had an enviable record battling COVID-19, but as an omicron wave now overwhelms the city, the steps that saved lives are making life unbearable for many of its 7.4 million people.

Like an immune system overreacting and harming the person it is meant to protect, the "dynamic COVID zero" policies that had crushed the virus in Hong Kong have contributed to current woes, experts say. Patients lie in beds in cold, wet parking lots outside overflowing hospitals, isolation facilities are filling up and thousands queue for hours outside testing venues.

A sixtyfold spike in daily infections this month prompted the government recently to modify its COVID-eradication policies, but the authorities continue to aim to wipe out the virus. The impact of zero tolerance will remain for some time, epidemiologists say.