More kindergartens forced to shut as flu death toll rises to 74

January 24, 2019 11:09
Lawmakers called for an immediate city-wide suspension of classes for kindergartens and childcare centers to combat the flu outbreaks. Photo: RTHK

More than 300 kindergartens and childcare centers have suspended classes as the death toll from influenza and its complications during the current winter flu season rises.

Meanwhile, the government is set to announce that kindergartens and childcare centers will start the Lunar New Year holidays earlier in the face of the flu outbreaks, according to media reports.

As of Wednesday, at least 187 flu patients, including 13 under the age of 18, were considered serious cases, and 74, all adults, had died, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing data from the Department of Health's Center for Health Protection (CHP).

The center told 24 more pre-school establishments, including four in Kwun Tong and three in Kowloon City, to shut their campuses on Wednesday due to the flu outbreaks, bringing the total to 372.

Dr. Wong Ka-hing, the CHP controller, on Friday said it was necessary for some of the schools for children to suspend classes for a week starting from Saturday as a precaution against what officials say is an extraordinarily active winter flu season.

According to the CHP, most of the flu cases this season were caused by the A-type (H1) virus, which was responsible for 77.5 percent of the serious cases.

In light of the current situation, the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers called on the government to let kindergartens start the Lunar New Year holidays earlier so as to prevent the epidemic from spreading swiftly and protect both teachers and children.

The group also urged authorities to extend the School Outreach Vaccination Pilot Program to kindergartens and childcare centers as well as allocate more resources to fund disinfection works.

Calling the ferocity of the flu outbreaks this season astonishing, Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is a medical doctor, called for an immediate city-wide class suspension for kindergartens and childcare centers. 

He also urged the government to take precautions as many private doctors will be on leave during the coming holidays, a situation that will add more pressure to the already stretched capacities of accident and emergency (A&E) units of public hospitals.

The Food and Health Bureau said an interdepartmental meeting has been set before the weekend to evaluate the latest developments regarding the flu outbreaks and decide whether all of the kindergartens and childcare centers should suspend classes.

Meanwhile, the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong asked the government to add the intranasal vaccine to its vaccination program which was launched in October last year.

William Chui Chun-ming, chairman of the society, said intranasal vaccine, whose price is double that of traditional vaccines, is suitable for people aged 2 to 49 and specifically effective for children who have never received the flu vaccine before.

Intranasal vaccination can help raise the vaccination rate by 3 percent and ease the heavy work pressure faced by frontline healthcare professionals, Chui said.

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