As Hong Kong faces the flu season this winter, data suggests that new patients, even those seriously ill, may have a hard time securing beds at public hospitals in the coming weeks or even months.
The Hospital Authority (HA) said public hospitals have entered the peak period of their winter services, but they have been scrambling to arrange beds for those in need since earlier this month.
The average occupancy rate of medial wards at 17 public hospitals reached 101 percent from Dec. 6 to 19, while that for children hospitals hit 85 percent, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing data from the authority.
Emergency cases at public hospitals during the period averaged 5,856, and hit 6,635 on their busiest day.
Among the nine public hospitals, Prince of Wales Hospital had the worst occupancy rate at 121 percent on Monday, followed by United Christian Hospital at 117 percent and Queen Elizabeth Hospital at 116 percent.
The number of emergency visits is expected to reach the peak next Tuesday and Wednesday, the HA said, adding that it is launching several measures to cope with the situation.
Dr. Li Kai-ming, chairman of the HA Central Coordinating Committee (Accident & Emergency), said having more than 6,000 emergency cases at one time means many hospitals are definitely overcrowded.
He called on people seeking non-emergency medical treatment to go to general out-patient clinics or private clinics instead, or use the mobile application developed by the authority to check waiting time beforehand.
Secretary for Health Ko Wing-man, who visited Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan to monitor the situation and give a pep talk to staff at the emergency department, said the rising number of patients at the emergency ward does not mean the peak period of this winter’s flu season has arrived.
It could be that the peak seen in the summer has not completely passed yet, Ko said, adding that the authority continues to monitor the situation.
The New Territories East Cluster, which comprises seven public hospitals, is planning to add 135 beds between this month and May next year to help meet the growing demand.
Meanwhile, Apple Daily reported that the Center for Health Protection (CHP) is investigating the first imported human case of the H7N9 bird flu this winter after a 75-year-old man was confirmed to be positive for the virus on Monday.
The man was found to have travelled to Dongguan last month and visited a local wet market where he bought dressed chicken before returning to Hong Kong on Dec. 9.
He was admitted to the North District Hospital on the same day for cough with sputum, shortness of breath, runny nose and chest discomfort.
The CHP said the man is in stable condition while his close contacts have remained asymptomatic.
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