Hong Kong expert on healthcare system amid spike in Covid cases

Patients lie in hospital beds awaiting medical treatment in a temporary shelter outside the Caritas Medical Center in Hong Kong, China February 16, 2022.

Leung Man Hei | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Hong Kong must protect its healthcare system, which is currently under enormous stress due to a spike in coronavirus cases, a healthcare expert told CNBC on Friday.

Hong Kong is in its fifth wave, driven by the more transmissible omicron strain. Cases have risen sharply, from just over 100 new cases a day in early February to a record 6,166 new cases on Thursday.

“Essentially, in Hong Kong right now, what we need to do is protect the integrity of the healthcare system,” said Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “The healthcare system in Hong Kong is currently under enormous stress.”

Authorities blamed the surge on the ‘extreme speed of transmission’ of the omicron variant, and said the ‘tsunami’ of new cases has ‘far exceeded’ capacity for treatment, research, testing and isolation from the city.

Hospitals face “tremendous pressure”, the government said this week. The occupancy rate in public hospitals was 92% as of February 18, according to data from the Hong Kong Hospital Authority.

Media reports said there were scenes of patients huddled on beds left out in the open outside hospitals as facilities were overwhelmed.

Leung told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that the city needs to slow the speed of the current outbreak.

“The only way to slow it down now is to really go and stop people mixing and moving around the city even more,” he said.

“So whether you call it a lockdown, or whether you call it improved or enhanced public health and social measures, I don’t really mind – the jargon isn’t the important thing.”

Healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) attend to a patient with Covid symptoms in a temporary triage area next to the emergency department at the Caritas Medical Center hospital in Hong Kong, the Wednesday, February 16, 2022.

Bertha Wang | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“What we desperately need to do is make sure that we protect the integrity of the hospital system, so that people do not deteriorate further if they really need help in hospitals,” he said. he continued.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday there were no plans for a citywide lockdown.

“The immediate response of the Hong Kong SAR government … is to build capacity at various levels of this anti-epidemic effort, and we are doing that,” she said.

“I have to say very clearly that we don’t have any plans for a general lockdown of the city like you’ve seen in some other places,” she told reporters.

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