Public hospitals under great pressure as Covid-19 cases rise

March 31, 2020 12:33
The Centre for Health Protection reported on Monday that 41 people tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 682, plus one probable case. Photo: HKEJ

Authorities have voiced concerns that the city's healthcare system is under growing pressure as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health reported on Monday that 41 people, aged 11 to 61, tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 682, plus one probable case.

Some patients confirmed to have contracted the disease have to wait one or two days before they can be arranged to be admitted to hospital for treatment, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

One of the patients revealed that he was notified by the health department on Saturday evening that he needed to be admitted to a hospital for treatment, only to be taken there around noon on Monday.

The 21-year-old man, who works at a bar, said he was worried he might have infected her mother who lives with him in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po as she was not placed in isolation while he was waiting to be sent to a hospital.

According to CHP data, 41 confirmed patients were still not hospitalized as of Monday night, including one on Friday, 11 on Sunday and 29 on Monday.

Dr. Lau Ka-hin, chief manager of quality and standards at the Hospital Authority (HA), called the situation very tense, noting that the occupancy rate of isolation beds in public hospitals stood at 62 percent as of Monday and as high as 77 percent for isolation wards.

Lau said the occupancy rate of isolation wards in some hospitals have reached 100 percent, and as such, some confirmed patients had to wait for one day before they could be hospitalized.

The number of wards limits the number of beds that can be offered, Lau said, but he stressed that the HA is continuing to devise ways to ensure that all confirmed patients can be arranged for isolation in hospitals as soon as possible.

Some 400 second-tier isolation beds that were converted from regular beds have been gradually put to use since Monday, mainly for patients in stable condition, Lau said.

Patients are said to be in stable condition if they satisfy a number of conditions such as having no fever for 48 hours, no symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, and no diarrhea, he said.

Asked if the authorities would consider setting up a hospital exclusively for Covid-19 patients – a Hong Kong version of the Xiaotangshan Hospital in Beijing or even buying beds from private hospitals, Lau said that every plan has its pros and cons, adding that the HA has been discussing with the government all possible solutions and measures to address the problem.

HA's chief executive Dr. Tony Ko Pat-sing told a radio program on Monday morning that while he hopes the second-tier wards can ease the pressure faced by public hospitals, some of the Covid-19 patients may end up being isolated in their communities should an outbreak like that seen in Europe occur in Hong Kong and result in an exponential growth in the number of patients.

Civic Party lawmaker Dr. Kwok Ka-ki, representing the medical function constituency, suggested that the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai be converted into a temporary hospital to cope with the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.

He also proposed buying beds from private hospitals, just like it had done during peak influenza seasons in the past, and transferring patients with lower risks to private hospitals.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the CHP’s Communicable Disease Branch, agreed that the situation in Hong Kong at the moment is worrisome as an “invisible” patient may cause a major outbreak and such transmission chains may not be broken if that person joins a huge gathering.

Speaking to media before the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it is "unsatisfactory" that a number of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus could not be sent to a hospital for treatment right away.

Lam said patients who have nearly recovered from Covid-19 may be transferred to other isolation facilities to free up beds. But officials are still working on the logistics, RTHK quoted Lam as saying.

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