Death toll mounts, daily Covid-19 cases hit 2-year high in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has reported more than 37,000 confirmed cases and over 240 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. PHOTO: REUTERS
Medical workers move a patient lying on a hospital bed at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital in Hong Kong, on Feb 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - The city of Hong Kong is facing its stiffest challenge in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic as daily infections hit a two-year high, the death toll mounts, and hospitals and isolation facilities are swamped in the face of staff shortages.

The health authorities yesterday said there were more than 6,100 new cases, of which only nine were imported, and another 6,300 people recorded as preliminarily positive. The virus has also affected 19 homes for the elderly in the city.

Hong Kong has recorded 16,600 Covid-19 cases from the beginning of January till Wednesday (Feb 16). It has reported more than 37,000 confirmed cases and over 240 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

"In other words, the number of cases in the fifth wave has surpassed the total of 2020 and 2021," said Under Secretary for Food and Health Chui Tak Yi. He said the protocol now was to admit high-risk patients and send those with mild symptoms to community isolation facilities as hospital beds run out.

In an effort to ease the situation, Dr Chui said the quarantine period at isolation facilities will be shortened. From yesterday, residents who test negative seven days after their first positive test will be discharged from such facilities. They will then have to isolate themselves at home for another seven days and must test negative on the 14th day before being allowed to leave.

But only those who do not live with the elderly, pregnant women or the chronically ill will be allowed to go home, said Dr Chui.

Patients who are at home waiting to be hospitalised are free to leave the premises if they test negative after 14 days. Currently, almost 7,000 patients are serving home isolation.

More than 2,800 patients are in hospitals and public treatment facilities, while 2,100 people are in the Penny's Bay community isolation facility.

Dr Sara Ho of the Hospital Authority said public hospitals are running at more than 90 per cent of capacity and quarantine facilities are full. More than a dozen people are critically ill, while more than 60 are in a serious condition, she added.

"In the last few days, we had a lot of emergency cases where we had to accommodate patients in tents. For these situations, our medical staff are very unhappy.

"We are worried about our patient care, especially today, there has been some rain and the weather in the coming few days will also be cold, so we are thinking of different methods to accommodate earlier admissions," Dr Ho said.

She noted that some care homes had rejected seniors who were discharged from public hospitals. She urged them not to do so as this would add to hospital patient load.

A mobile testing vehicle from mainland China arrives at the Shenzhen Bay Control Point to help with the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, on Feb 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

The shortage of staff in the hospitals, quarantine facilities and at the fire services department, which had been roped in to ferry patients to isolation camps, has added to the woes of the authorities.

Dr Ho appealed to private-sector doctors to volunteer at the isolation facilities, and the government has said more public servants would be mobilised to help with anti-epidemic operations if needed.

Medical workers work among patients lying in beds at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital in Hong Kong, on Feb 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in the meantime, has said that she was considering rolling out mandatory testing for the city's 7.4 million population to curb transmissions.

She made the remark at Shenzhen Bay Port after welcoming a team of mainland epidemiologists who are now assisting Hong Kong in its fight against the virus.

The mainland team is expected to provide guidance on the city's prevention and anti-epidemic work, including virus detection, quarantine, as well as epidemiological and environmental investigations.

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