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Published: 19:57, December 08, 2023 | Updated: 21:00, December 08, 2023
Hong Kong's hospitals brace for winter flu surge
By Xi Tianqi
Published:19:57, December 08, 2023 Updated:21:00, December 08, 2023 By Xi Tianqi

This July 18, 2023 photo shows the Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong. (SHAMIM ASHRAF / CHINA DAILY)

HONG KONG – Hospitals in Hong Kong called to have the city’s children vaccinated in light of the peak of the winter flu season, as the city prepares by mobilizing more beds, recruiting external employees, offering more spaces in public clinics, and providing telemedicine if necessary.

At a news conference held by the Hospital Authority on Friday, Lee Kwok-piu, chief of service for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, said the occupancy rates of pediatric wards have remained high since the city’s return to normalcy from COVID-19 restrictions.

On Thursday, pediatric wards in public hospitals were operating at over 97 percent capacity, Lee said.

Winter is a traditional peak season for influenza infections. In addition to pediatric wards, the internal medicine wards in the public healthcare system are also saturated, as the occupancy rate surpassed 101 percent, the Hospital Authority said

He said that many pediatric patients admitted to hospitals are respiratory infections with “a diverse range of sources”. Some patients even have three or four infections at once. About 40 percent of hospitalized children carry the rhinovirus and intestinal diseases, Lee said.

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Lee urged parents to prioritize their children’s health by ensuring they receive both influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible.

In late November, authorities reported two cases of collective upper respiratory tract infections in schools. The outbreaks involved 40 students aged 6 to 18, and six employees.

Winter is a traditional peak season for influenza infections. In addition to pediatric wards, the internal medicine wards in the public healthcare system are also saturated, as the occupancy rate surpassed 101 percent, the Hospital Authority said.

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Larry Lee Lap-yip, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager of Cluster Performance, said the upcoming holiday season is expected to further strain healthcare services, and the Hospital Authority has prepared contingency measures to alleviate the pressure.

For instance, if the number of children patients’ admissions exceeds the number of beds a pediatric ward has, the hospital can use backup beds or use beds from other departments.

Larry Lee said the authority plans to offer 103 additional sick beds and recruit external nurses and support employees to tackle resource shortage. Special salary plans will also be introduced to attract more healthcare workers.

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The General Out-patient Clinics will also boost manpower to provide more service during weekends and holidays. Furthermore, 18 public clinics will reinforce their services during the Christmas and Lunar New Year holidays, Larry Lee added.

Drawing from the experience gained during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hospital Authority also aims to enhance outreach services and support for elderly residents in care homes, and provide telemedicine services to them if the demand warrants it.

An emergency response command center will be launched to ensure the public medical system’s smooth operation, Larry Lee said. The North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Center — a comprehensive medical facility built during the pandemic — will be reopened if necessary, he added.

Doctors also said current viral activity levels of COVID-19 remains stable, and no cases of new virus infection have been detected.

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