Kindergartens and primary schools are to break early for the Lunar New Year due to flu outbreaks across the city.

Wong Ka-hing, controller at the Centre for Health Protection, told reporters on Wednesday that schools will be cancelled from Thursday after the government held an interdepartmental meeting and consulted experts.

“The resumption of the school will depend on the school holiday arrangement of the individual school,” Wong added.

education kid child school
Photo: GovHK.

“We believe this can reduce the social contact of the students, because we know that the kindergartens, childcare centres and primary schools – most of them are in crowded conditions and so with this measure of… social distancing we can reduce the close contact between the students.”

“So this would help reduce the children’s risk of contracting influenza and also perpetuating the transmission.”

Schools buildings must stay open and also keep dormitories open for the additional holiday period, even though classes will not be in session, said Lee Kam-kwong, Principal Assistant Secretary of the Education Bureau.

Daycare services will also continue to run, added Fung Man-chung, Assistant Director (Family and Child Welfare) of the Social Welfare Department.

Not yet at peak

Hong Kong University microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said that the current flu epidemic affects children more than the elderly.

Two children have died since the start of 2018, though the epidemic has not yet reached its peak and the government must take measures to prevent more children from falling ill, he said.

More than 330 outbreaks reported since last month.

Wong said there has been an increase in outbreaks at institutions this year, especially at kindergartens and primary schools.

Wong Ka-hing
Wong Ka-hing, controller at the Centre for Health Protection. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Sorted by age group, there have been the most hospitalisations among children below five years old, with 8.44 cases out of 10,000 people. There have been 3.6 cases reported per 10,000 for those aged 6-11, and 2.8 cases per 10,000 for those aged 65 and older, according to Wong.

During a Q&A session at the legislature on Wednesday, pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien called on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to implement mandatory flu jabs for all school children.

“The winter surge is caused by influenza B – it is affecting children more,” Lam said. “There will be different influenzas – we should get prepared – not just for the next winter surge, there could be another outbreak in the summer.”

Lam said there will be better plans to combat infection, but would not commit to mandatory immunisation.

The government has issued an additional HK$500 million in funding for the Hospital Authority to cope with the winter flu season surge.

On Tuesday, the Centre for Health Protection investigated an influenza B outbreak at a Happy Valley kindergarten. Nineteen students and one staff member were affected.

As of Wednesday, all public hospitals were operating at above 100 per cent bed occupancy.

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.