A new community isolation facility for Covid-19 patients has opened in San Tin, as it becomes the second to be completed in the city with the assistance of mainland Chinese teams.

San Tin Covid-19 isolation facility room
A room at the San Tin Covid-19 isolation facility. Photo: GovHK.

The facility, which will house coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, began operations on Wednesday. It has 720 rooms and 2,800 isolation beds, according to a government statement.

Chief Secretary John Lee visited the facility on Wednesday, where he expressed his thanks to the construction company and the central government, as the city struggles to battle the fifth wave of the coronavirus.

“I am thankful to China State Construction International Holdings Limited for its multifaceted efforts in overcoming various difficulties, and working round the clock to complete construction of the facility in San Tin in less than two weeks,” he said.

San Tin isolation facility John Lee mainland support
Chief Secretary John Lee visits the San Tin Covid-19 isolation facility, where he thanks mainland Chinese anti-epidemic teams and the construction company for their support. Photo: GovHK.

The isolation facility is on the former site of San Tin Shopping City, also called The Boxes. The mall closed last November, less than four years after opening, due to poor business and low footfall.

The completion of the San Tin facility follows the opening of the Tsing Yi isolation centre earlier this month. Patients there have complained about shabby facilities, including squat-style toilets common in mainland China, and staff overlooking rooms when distributing dinner.

Tsing Yi toilets
Squat toilets in Tsing Yi quarantine facilities. Photo: Supplied.

More isolation facilities to come

At a daily Covid-19 press briefing on Thursday morning, Secretary for Development Michael Wong said authorities aim to build four more isolation facilities by the end of March.

“Counting San Tin and Tsing Yi, there will be a total of some 20,000 beds that will be delivered from the six sites,” Wong said.

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The four locations include Fanling, Hung Shui Kiu, Tam Mei, and a site north of Tuen Mun near the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Hong Kong is in the midst of battling an outbreak of the Omicron variant with daily case counts in the tens of thousands during recent weeks. The isolation facilities – used to house stable patients with mild Covid-19 symptoms – are part of the government’s dynamic Covid-zero strategy, under which authorities aim to separate the infected and prevent them from spreading the virus in the community.

covid covid-19 quarantine tsing yi isolation
Tsing Yi Covid-19 quarantine facility. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The approach, however, has come under the scrutiny of medics, who say more resources and manpower should be focused on severely ill patients instead.

Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth Hospital – one of the city’s largest hospitals – was converted into a designated Covid-19 facility on Wednesday. The Hospital Authority said on Thursday morning that around a quarter of non-Covid patients had already been transferred to other hospitals.

covid covid-19 quarantine tsing yi isolation
Tsing Yi Covid-19 quarantine facility. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Tony Ko, Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority, said in a Wednesday press conference that he hopes the arrangement can allow staff to pool resources and provide dedicated care to vulnerable patients.

Hong Kong has seen 527,260 cases of Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, and 2,578 deaths.

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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.