Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong continue to mount as the government negotiates with private hospitals to take in some recovering patients. The city’s number two official has said the city has entered “full combat mode” against the fifth wave, while mainland infectious disease experts inspected epidemic facilities over the weekend.

Two elderly patients were seen outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Shum Shui Po on February 16, 2022. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

Hong Kong added another 6,067 coronavirus cases and 14 deaths on Sunday. The patients who died were between 77 and 98 years of age, health officials said during a routine briefing on Sunday. A total of 240 of the city’s elderly and disability care homes have recorded at least one coronavirus cases, said Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP). Over 670 elderly care home residents and 197 nursing home workers have tested positive thus far.

Hong Kong hospitals have been inundated with Covid-19 patients after tens of thousands tested positive with the coronavirus last week. Hundreds were seen placed on hospital beds outdoors – only some of whom were placed under mobile tents – as indoor bed spaces filled up. Chief Secretary John Lee declared in a blog post on Sunday that the city had entered “full combat mode” and was taking up the task of stabilising the coronavirus wave in accordance with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s edict last Wednesday.

Patients were placed outdoors at a Hong Kong public hospital on February 17, 2022. The city’s public health system was under strain as the city braced the fifth Omicron wave. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

Aware that temperatures plunged below 10 degrees Celsius with continuous rain during the weekend, Hospital Authority official Sara Ho said that all patients had been moved indoors, after space was cleared from hospital physiotherapy treatment facilities as well as staff rooms.

To cope with a large number of patients, Ho said the Authority was negotiating with private hospitals to take in recovering patients. The arrangement could alleviate much of the public system’s stress, she said. However, the number of patients the private sector could take is remains unclear as discussions were only “preliminary.” Meanwhile, the government is seeking other indoor facilities to house patients, she said.

Ho also urged patients “not to project negative emotions” onto overwhelmed medics.

“We fully understand that everyone has to wait a long time before they can see a doctor. Everyone is suffering and is unhappy,” she said. “Because there really are too many patients, however hard they work, they cannot meet your requests right away. We hope we could all be considerate and understanding so our colleagues may focus on our patients.”

Care packages

The Department of Health will also begin sending electronic forms to individuals self-isolating at home in order to obtain their names and home addresses. The move is meant to reduce time spent calling on those in home quarantine. They will be sent a care package that includes rapid antigen test kits, Edwin Tsui, director of the CHP, said.

As infection figures continue to rise, health officials also admitted that they had stopped publishing figures of preliminary positive cases, as they “do not reflect actual trend” owing to delays in confirming positive test results. The CHP will now use “the daily notification figures to reflect actual trend,” said Chuang.

Dr. Edwin Tsui speaking at the routine Covid-19 press conference on February 20, 2022. Photo: HKGov screenshot.

A second group of over 100 Covid-19 workers including four infectious disease experts arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon. The experts were led by deputy director of the Health Commission of Guangdong Province and will handle serious Covid cases, Singtao Daily reported. Since arriving on Wednesday, the mainland medics have inspected Covid-19 facilities in Hong Kong, including a contact-tracing office and test labs.

Mainland authorities sent eight cargo containers of Covid-related equipment and supplies to Hong Kong including inflatable Covid-19 labs, fully automated nucleic acid extraction systems, sterilisation devices and other instruments, the newspaper reported, citing Guangdong Customs.

As some of the mainland medics began work at the Ma On Shan temporary test laboratory, Hongkongers may expect to see faster turnaround times for their tests, Tsui said.

Patients were placed outdoors at a Hong Kong public hospital on February 17, 2022. The city’s public health system was under strain as the city braced the fifth Omicron wave. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

Hong Kong has recorded 52,830 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 290 deaths.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.