Private hospitals will set aside 1,000 beds to take in non-Covid patients from public hospitals to ease the burden on medics there, who are stretched to the limit in tackling Hong Kong’s fifth coronavirus wave.

The Private Hospitals Association said in a statement on Tuesday that the group – which represents 13 hospitals across the city – hopes the move will allow hospitals to better coordinate their resources.

Gleneagles Hospital private
Gleneagles Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang. Photo: GovHK.

At a daily Covid-19 press briefing, Hospital Authority Chief Manager (Quality and Standards) Lau Ka-hin said he welcomed the arrangement.

“This is very good news for the Hospital Authority as well as for Hong Kong, because after… non-Covid patients are transferred to private hospitals for treatment, we will have more beds and capacity to treat our Covid patients,” Lau said.

The 1,000 beds account for about 20 per cent of private hospitals’ capacity, the Private Hospitals Association said.

Hospital Authority Lau Ka-hin
Hospital Authority Chief Manager (Quality and Standards) Lau Ka-hin. Photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

Among the cases that will be shifted to private hospitals include those receiving rehabilitative and convalescence care, Lau added, as well as patients recovering after surgery.

Private hospitals do not currently admit Covid-19 patients.

While daily Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong have generally declined over the past week and a half, the city has continued to record cases in the tens of thousands. Medical experts at the University of Hong Kong said on Tuesday that around 3.6 million people in the city – or close to half the population – had already contracted the virus when the fifth wave peaked on March 4.

Health authorities confirmed another 27,765 Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, of which 15,809 were positive rapid test results reported to the new online platform.

Another 289 deaths among virus patients were reported.

‘Standing idly by’

The association’s announcement follows comments from a top Beijing official earlier this month, who questioned why private hospitals in Hong Kong were not treating virus patients.

At a meeting with Hong Kong representatives attending the “Two Sessions,” a week-long meeting with mainland Chinese political elites, Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng reportedly called on private hospitals to do more to tackle the city’s Covid-19 outbreak.

Recent editorials in local state-backed newspaper Ta Kung Pao have also criticised private hospitals, with one columnist claiming that they were “standing idly by” as public hospitals struggled with an influx of patients.

medic medical doctor A&E emergency ER caritas covid covid-19 queue
Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The head of the Private Hospitals Association, William Ho, said last week that private hospitals lack the manpower and isolation facilities to handle Covid-19 cases.

Health authorities first announced last Wednesday that both public and private hospitals would absorb non-Covid patients from Queen Elizabeth Hospital to assist its conversion into a designated facility to treat Covid-19 patients, though it did not say how many private hospital bed spaces would be set aside for the purpose.

As of Monday, Hong Kong has recorded 733,785 Covid-19 cases and 4,279 related fatalities.

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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.