One of Hong Kong’s largest public hospitals will be converted into a dedicated Covid-19 facility, authorities announced on Wednesday, as the city surpassed 500,000 infections.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

About 380 non-Covid patients currently being treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei will be transferred to other facilities over the next four days, Tony Ko, Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority, said during a press conference on Wednesday. Most will be sent to other nearby public hospitals in the Kowloon Central cluster, while some will taken to other public and private hospitals.

The transfers will be carried out by non-emergency ambulances. Apart from life-threatening cases, Queen Elizabeth’s accident and emergency (A&E) department will not admit patients. They will be taken to A&E departments at other hospitals instead.

Tony Ko, Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority, addresses the media. Photo: RTHK, video screenshot.

“[After] we have completed the transfer of patients… we’ll have about 1,500 beds for Covid patients,” Ko said.

Queen Elizabeth will be the third public hospital in the city – following Tin Shui Wai Hospital and North Lantau Hospital – to be designated for coronavirus patients only.

‘Pooling our resources’

The announcement comes as authorities said they were advised by anti-epidemic experts from mainland China to prioritise the most vulnerable populations amid the fifth-wave outbreak.

As Covid-19 cases mount, daily fatalities – the majority of which are elderly patients – have reached record highs. Reports suggest that Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death rate is now the highest in the developed world.

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Liang Wannian, the head of the Covid-19 task force under mainland China’s National Health Commission, said on Monday that the city should “reduce infections, reduce serious cases, reduce deaths” as a priority. To do so, Hong Kong must focus its efforts on its elderly population, he said.

At the Wednesday press conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the median age of those who died from Covid-19 was over 80, many of whom were residents of elderly homes.

Two refrigerated containers set at temperatures between one to two degrees above zero Celsius were spotted by HKFP outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital mortuary on Friday. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

“We have taken on the advice given by mainland experts, particularly Liang Wannian… at this point our focus should be on reducing severe cases, death and the spread of the disease,” Lam said.

Ko added that the conversion of Queen Elizabeth Hospital into a Covid facility will allow medical staff to boost their treatment capacity and lower fatalities.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (second right), National Health Commission expert Liang Wannian (second left). Photo: HK Gov handout.

Authorities aim to complete the transfer of patients by Saturday.

“Through this arrangement, I hope we can… pool our resources and experts together to provide the necessary treatment,” Ko said, adding that the Hospital Authority may also convert more hospitals – such as Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Kowloon Hospital in Kowloon City – depending on the development of the epidemic.

Hong Kong has recorded 527,260 cases and 2,578 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.