Hong Kong rallies around those in need as Covid-19 overwhelms healthcare, isolation systems

Medical workers move a patient lying on a hospital bed at a makeshift treatment area in Hong Kong on Feb 18, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Hong Kong is mobilising everyone it can, from prominent developers to cab drivers, as its hospitals remain flooded with Covid-19 patients and isolation facilities are full amid a surge in infections.

The situation will get more critical as temperatures are expected to drop to 11 deg C from Friday night (Feb 18) in urban areas and lower in New Territories. This will add to the woes of understaffed hospitals that find it hard to cope with the patient load that has spilled out to makeshift "wards" in carparks.

On Wednesday night, some such as property developer New World Group donated heaters to bring warmth to patients who had to wait in the cold under layers of blankets.

The Hospital Authority's Dr Sara Ho, who oversees patient safety and risk management, said at a briefing on Friday that about 10 or so patients are in critical conditions and public hospitals have hit their maximum limits of 90 per cent.

The authorities have converted some indoor venues such as the outpatient clinic waiting area and the staff area to house patients, said Dr Ho. They have also made arrangements for outdoor spaces outside hospitals to be turned into patient waiting areas.

"The work is daunting because there is limited space outside the hospitals," said Dr Ho, who added that patients are being moved indoor on Friday, ahead of the dip in temperature.

She also appealed to people to stop sending resources to hospitals as they have sufficient items such as warm clothing and other supplies. "We are not short of resources. We are short of manpower."

Dr Ho again called on healthcare workers from the private sector to pitch in as the manpower crunch escalates with 150 staff infected.

The city added more than 3,600 Covid-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total confirmed cases to more than 40,600 and at least 240 deaths.

Another 7,600 people had tested preliminary positive, while there is a backlog of 4,800 samples undergoing testing, of which results are expected from Friday night.

So far, more than 3,000 confirmed and preliminary positive patients are in public hospitals and another 3,200 are at Penny's Bay quarantine camp. More than 8,500 are serving home quarantine.

There are now 150 care homes where either residents or staff were found infected.

Tensions have been simmering as care home operators and the Hospital Authority disagree over the issue of discharged elderly patients.

The authorities have urged care homes to take back this group of residents, but Altru Nursing Home chief executive Grace Li told a radio programme that doing so could expose other residents to infection and these homes are not equipped to deal with such events.

The health authorities are now moving stable patients to other facilities in North Lantau, AsiaWorld Expo and Penny's Bay quarantine centre in the hopes of releasing more hospital beds.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday said Hong Kong has identified more than 20,000 hotel rooms for quarantine accommodation, with help from property developers including Sino Group, Swire Properties and Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Mrs Lam said 21 hotels were willing to turn their facilities into isolation venues, exceeding "by a large margin the government's original target of 7,000 to 10,000 rooms".

The chief of Beijing's liaison office, Mr Luo Huining, on Friday also rallied key business leaders in the city to pledge their resources to fight the fifth wave of the pandemic.

New World Development pledged to free up the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for community testing purposes, while Henderson Land Development offered a 2 million sq ft site near Lam Tsuen for the government to build a makeshift hospital. Pacific Century Group will get popular boy band Mirror to be "anti-epidemic ambassadors" to ask people to stay home.

The growing crisis also spurred others to chip in, with 300 cabbies volunteering to ferry patients with mild symptoms to and from the seven designated public clinics from Friday. The service was met with overwhelming demand, with about 300 bookings in under half an hour when the hotline opened. These drivers will not take other passengers.

Local mask company acc+, together with grassroots organisations, will give out 100,000 boxes of Covid-19 self-test sticks to street sleepers in Sham Shui Po area - among the worst hit.

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