A top University of Hong Kong medic has said that Hong Kong will struggle to achieve zero Covid cases, though he expects the city’s declining number of cases could fall to double figures.

A man rests in Chater Garden in Central. File photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong hospital has found that fewer than 3 per cent of over 3,000 Covid-19 patients they were monitored had suffered from post-Covid conditions – much lower than the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s estimation.

According to the WHO’s clinical definition, common post-Covid conditions include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction and other symptoms that generally impact patients’ daily functioning. They typically occur within three months after infection and last for at least two months. Such conditions “cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.” The WHO estimates that 10-20 per cent of Covid patients experience “long-Covid.”

Speaking on RTHK radio on Monday morning, Ivan Hung – chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the University of Hong Kong’s medical faculty – said he believed the city’s approach of hospitalising patients early could be why Hongkongers appear less likely to suffer from “long Covid.” He added that, in many cases overseas, patients had waited for one to two weeks before hospitalisation.

Dr. Ivan Hung. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Although local hospitals were unable to accommodate all infections during the city’s fifth wave outbreak, Hung said the proportion of patients with post-Covid conditions may also be lower owing to vaccination, the use of anti-viral oral drugs and because most case were mild or asymptomatic.

Hung said Queen Mary Hospital had observed over 3,000 Covid patients from early 2021 for at least half a year.

Tough to achieve ‘zero Covid’

The top medic also said the city’s daily case count may eventually fall to double digits but it would be difficult to achieve zero infections: “[I] believe there will still be patients, as the virus itself is highly transmissive.”

But Hung said that, with enough vaccination coverage and appropriate infection control measures, “there is no need for excessive concern.”

“If we really emphasise zero Covid, indeed it will be very difficult to achieve, and it may have a large impact on the economic sector,” Hung added.

A queue for a Covid-19 test in Lek Yuen, Sha Tin, on February 5, 2022. File photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

When asked if universal testing remains necessary to help end Hong Kong’s fifth-wave outbreak, Hung said authorities should assess its “cost-effectiveness.” As daily infections have been decreasing at a high rate, Hung said citywide testing might only under a few thousand cases but “a lot of manpower and resources have to be mobilised.”

In addition, he said the testing programme “may not be able to fully cover all people” and there may be a higher risk for specific groups such as elderly care home residents or unvaccinated children as they go out for testing.

Hung said it might be a “better strategy” to scrap citywide compulsory testing.

Schools to reopen

Hong Kong’s primary schools and international schools will be the first to resume in-person classes on Tuesday, but students and teachers will only be allowed in if they return negative results with a rapid antigen test each morning.

The Hospital Authority’s Sara Ho announced during Monday afternoon’s daily Covid-19 briefing that the city’s 23 designated Covid clinics will earmark a quota for primary school or kindergarten pupils who test positive.

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Ho said the patients, their parents or caregivers can make reservations via the “Care Booking Line” – a specific set of hotlines for high-risk patients. She said a team of nurses will also reach out to pupils’ family members or caregivers by phone to provide assistance and information.

During the Monday morning radio programme, Hung said he believed that the resumption of classes and easing of social distancing measures will not have a significant impact on Hong Kong’s pandemic situation.

He said commercial and educational activities “eventually” have to gradually resume and he believed that the government’s measures were “normal practice.”

Hung said that, while infections may “mildly rebound” after the Easter holidays, “the natural immunity ratio is large, [so] the overall Covid-19 situation will – in fact – gradually recede.”

In all, the city has reported 1,197,825 Covid-19 infections and 9,139 related deaths as of Sunday.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.