Public hospital emergency rooms may experience a surge this week, the government has warned, as the winter flu season began amid a spate of cold weather.

On Saturday, public hospitals received 5,533 first visits to emergency rooms. As of midnight Sunday, all hospitals were showing an inpatient bed occupancy rate of 100 per cent or higher, according to the Hospital Authority.

Hospital Authority Chief Manager (Cluster Performance) Ian Cheung said on a TVB program that, taking into account the flu season and the recent low temperatures, the number of patients in emergency rooms is expected to rise. However, he said that it was difficult to estimate the increased waiting times.

Photo: Next Magazine.

He said that the Hospital Authority has measures to cope with the increase, but admitted that a lack of staff poses a limitation.

“There are already not many doctors on the market. Because we’ve already hired the ones who [can be] hired, it’s up to our colleagues to take a few more steps.”

“In terms of nurses, we have specially hired nurses through an agency to help out, this is an indication of our colleague’s efforts.”

Photo: GovHK.

He said that beds in internal medicine wards will continue to be full, and that public hospitals have already added another 1,500 beds. He added that the Hospital Authority has installed more accurate virus testing equipment in emergency rooms to more efficiently triage patients.

Ian Cheung (right).

The Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection announced on Sunday that it was investigating a case of severe influenza B infection in a 3-year-old boy. It said he was diagnosed with the virus, which was complicated with pneumonia and septic shock, and he was in critical condition.

“Hong Kong has entered the 2017-18 winter influenza season. We anticipate that local seasonal influenza activity will continue to rise in the coming weeks and remain at an elevated level for some time. Members of the public should maintain good personal protection against influenza,” a spokesman for the CHP said.

“Particularly, children, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses are urged to get vaccinated as early as possible to prevent seasonal influenza as it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body after vaccination,” he added, urging them to promptly seek medical advice if they develop flu-like symptoms.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.