Health officials have announced that seven clinics across Hong Kong will start offering medical services dedicated to Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms from Wednesday, as the city reported 1,619 new confirmed cases on Tuesday.

As the city’s fifth wave continues to bring daily tallies of more than a thousand infections, backlogs of unconfirmed tests have accumulated at a government laboratory and public hospitals have been overwhelmed.

Photo: Video screenshot, via RTHK.

As of Tuesday, 90 per cent of beds in public hospital isolation wards were already occupied. Sara Ho, the chief manager (patient safety and risk management) of the Hospital Authority, said isolation wards had already reached their “upper limit.”

The seven newly set up clinics will be able to treat 1,000 people per day in total, Ho told reporters at Tuesday’s regular Covid-19 briefing.

They will operate seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour break between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., and their services would not be affected by public holidays, Ho said, adding that patients must make a reservation before visiting.

People who have tested preliminary positive or are confirmed positive with mild symptoms – such as fever, coughing and a sore throat – can seek treatment at these clinics, from which, according to Ho, they would be transferred to hospital if necessary.

Ho said the Transport Department was arranging a way to transfer patients to and from the designated clinics.

During her weekly press meeting on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said a dedicated taxi fleet would be established to transfer patients and their close contacts to these newly set-up clinics.

She said guidelines on infection control will be handed out to drivers to help prevent transmission.

5,400 preliminary positive cases

On Tuesday afternoon, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the centre for health protection reported 1,619 newly confirmed positive cases, all of which were local infections. Among them, 12 were suspected Delta cases and 1,598 were believed to be Omicron.

Chuang said the city was looking at another 5,400 preliminary cases, which included specimens sent to the CHP’s laboratory two days ago.

Around 650 specimens had arrived at the laboratory on Sunday, with a further 4,000-odd arriving on Monday, Chuang said. More specimens were still being delivered to the lab.

According to Chuang, the CHP’s laboratory received more than 2,000 preliminary positive samples on Sunday and has processed over 75 per cent of the backlog already. Therefore, the number of infections reported on Tuesday afternoon reflected Sunday’s case load.

With more than 4,000 specimens piling in on Monday, Chuang said the CHP has been redeploying manpower, trying to streamline the process and working long hours to cope with the surge in samples. “Hopefully [they] can be done tonight,” she said.

Chuang also said the CHP had told the Hospital Authority – which accounted for 500 to 1,000 of the daily samples handled by the CHP lab – that they no longer need to hand over specimens for verification as the quality was “very good all along.”

As of Tuesday, Hong Kong has reported 26,670 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 221 deaths.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.