Over 12,500 of the Hospital Authority’s (HA) 88,000 employees have been infected with Covid-19 during the fifth wave, as it continues to overwhelm the public healthcare system.

Hospital Authority Chief Manager (Patient Safety & Risk Management) Sara Ho speaks at a Covid-19 press briefing on March 10, 2022. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Sara Ho, chief manager at the Hospital Authority, said during a routine Covid-19 press briefing on Thursday that the public body has seen an accumulated total of 12,554 staff members diagnosed with Covid during the fifth wave. The number represents some 14 per cent of the public hospital care system’s workforce.

Among them, 4,455 people have recovered and returned to work, Ho said, adding that the department retains no statistics on the breakdown of how many medical or non-medical staff are affected.

Although the department published detailed daily statistics on staff diagnosed with the coronavirus until mid-February, a spokesperson said the department could no longer provide daily numbers that would reflect how many were on Covid-related sick leave each day.

Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. File Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

As the number of elderly Covid-19 patients and those in a serious condition continues to mount, Hong Kong public hospitals – especially Accident & Emergency (A&E) – have come under intense pressure. Hundreds of elderly patients in need of treatment and oxygen supply had no alternative but to remain in A&E wards, in corridors, or in lift lobbies because there were no bedspaces in general wards.

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Five of the city’s 16 public hospitals also saw inpatient bed occupancy stretched from between 100 and 124 per cent on Thursday, according to HA figures.

A&E manager in tears

On Wednesday, a viral video showed Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s (QEH) Accident and Emergency service chief Ho Hiu-fai break down in tears during a staff meeting to coordinate the transfer of some 380 non-Covid patients to other hospitals, HK01 reported. QEH is to be used for Covid patients only.

“It has been so hard for our colleagues to hold up this past month,” he reportedly said.

Ho is a veteran near retirement age with 35 years of experience in emergency medicine. He was able to keep his cool even as the hospital’s emergency service received dozens of critical patients during past incidents or during winter flu surges. His display of emotion made for an exceptionally poignant scene for his staff, HK01 reported, citing A&E medics working under Ho.

A view of the entrance of Princess Margaret Hospital, where patients in gurneys and wheelchairs are lined up outside, taken by a medic from a hospital block. Photo: Supplied.

The Hong Kong government invoked an emergency law about two weeks ago to allow mainland medics to work in the city without first registering for a medical license. Lam, as well as her ministers, reiterated this week that the government had requested that Beijing send medics to help the city cope with its epidemic surge, especially at the treatment facilities at AsiaWorld-Expo and North Lantau Hospital.

However, neither the HA nor other ministers have thus far been able to disclose how many mainland medics may arrive, nor their date of arrival.

Including Thursday’s figures, Hong Kong has seen 617,419 Covid-19 cases obtained from nucleic acid tests and rapid antigen tests since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, and 3,150 deaths.

Correction 3.11: A previous version of this story misstated the Covid-19 case and death figures as of Thursday. The latest number is 617,419 cases and 3,150 deaths. The errors were introduced during editing.

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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.