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Monday, March 30, 2020, 09:02
HK backup plans urged in event of medical shortages
By He Shusi
Monday, March 30, 2020, 09:02 By He Shusi

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government should make backup plans to make more isolation facilities available and deploy medical employees more effectively to prevent a collapse of the city’s medical system in the event of a community outbreak of COVID-19, a medical expert said on Sunday.

Health authorities also said on Sunday that the government is discussing with medical experts using isolation beds in a more effective way, while adding that about 400 new isolation beds transformed from ordinary ones will be available next week.

The remarks came after the city recorded 59 new novel coronavirus infection cases on Sunday, pushing the total to 641. The number of new cases was only slightly below the 65 and 64 new cases — the largest and second-largest single-day tallies — that were recorded on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, stressed that the coming two weeks are critical in the city’s push to slow down the transmission of the disease in the community. She urged the public to stay at home and avoid nonessential outings.

The high daily increase of new cases and suspected patients could lead to a shortage of beds in public hospitals’ isolation wards. At this rate of increase, all available isolation beds will soon be occupied even with the addition of 400 beds next week, said Sara Ho Yuen-ha, Hospital Authority chief manager (patient safety and risk management).

The city has 1,012 isolation beds, 62 percent of which are now occupied, an increase of about 10 percent from a few days ago. Sixty-six of the beds are in the intensive care unit, and 122 are for children, leaving only 824 such beds for general adult patients, Ho said. Except for confirmed patients, 540 people with suspicious symptoms are isolated in the hospital, she said

The government has been discussing with medical experts the feasibility of transferring nearly recovered patients to isolation beds transformed from ordinary wards, which are equipped with the same type of isolation facilities, Ho said.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases under the Hong Kong Medical Association, thinks the proposal to make more front-line isolation beds available is feasible in the short term.

Although the situation is still under control, the doctor said the government should prepare for the worst-case scenario — a community outbreak — with the increasing number of people returning to the city.

Leung suggests the government start making backup plans now in the event that isolation beds in public hospitals are used up. This includes equipping quarantine centers with basic medical facilities and employees, and isolating patients with mild symptoms suspected of being infected with mild symptoms before they are confirmed and sent to hospitals.

In the worst situation, the government should consider turning large venues, such as exhibition centers and schools, into temporary hospitals for patients with mild symptoms, especially the young and those without an underlying disease, Leung said.

The government should start selecting possible venues and making plans on manpower and facilities deployment, Leung said. If the city were to wait until after a local outbreak, it would already be too late, and the city’s medical system could easily collapse, he warned.

Contact the writers at heshusi@chinadailyhk.com

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