Hong Kong could see shortage of health workers as Covid-19 cases grow

Medical experts also suggested streamlining the city's resources and allowing mainland doctors and nurses to come in to help.

Shadow Li and Chen Shuman

Shadow Li and Chen Shuman

China Daily


Residents line up at a nucleic acid testing site in Hong Kong, on Feb 18, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

March 1, 2022

HONG KONG – Medical experts say changes needed to care for growing ranks of virus patients

Hong Kong reported 26,026 COVID-19 infections and 83 related deaths on Sunday, by far the largest numbers since the pandemic began in 2020 and bringing the city’s current case number to 164,981.

Medical experts warned that Hong Kong could run into a shortage of medical workers with the new hospitals and the steep rise in infections, and they suggested streamlining the city’s resources and allowing mainland doctors and nurses to come in to help.

Li Dachuan, deputy director of the Medical Administration Bureau of the National Health Commission, said in an interview with local media that a team of about 9,000 nucleic acid test workers from the mainland is ready to come to Hong Kong to offer services at any time.

Official data show that 90 percent of the city’s isolation beds are occupied and 2,776 Hospital Authority staff members have contracted the virus.

In an interview with Xinhua, mainland medical expert Feng Zijian, who participated in the supervision of the mainland’s anti-epidemic efforts in Hong Kong, said the healthcare system in Hong Kong risks becoming overloaded and the shortage of medical workers is the bottleneck.

It would be a major breakthrough if medical workers from the mainland were allowed to participate directly in Hong Kong’s fight against the epidemic.

Feng acknowledged that the Hospital Authority is also optimizing patient assessment and triage, prioritizing medical resources to critical patients to minimize avoidable deaths.

In an interview with China Daily, Ming Wai-kit, an assistant professor of public health at the City University of Hong Kong, anticipated a more severe staffing shortage when the city’s pandemic hits an expected climax in March and will further worsen when new hospitals being built by the mainland fully open.

A makeshift hospital in Tsing Yi, providing 3,800 beds, is going to be completed on Monday. The project is one of nine isolation and treatment facilities being built with the mainland’s help. In all, these projects are expected to provide 50,000 places for isolation and treatment.

Ming said the introduction of mainland doctors and nurses will provide timely and adequate treatment for patients when the pandemic is at its height and after that, it will be easier to get it under control.

For more holistic planning, Ming suggested the city set up triage centers to treat mildly ill patients and that public hospitals suspend all nonemergency services and transfer those patients to private hospitals, which could double the public sector’s capacity to handle COVID-patients.

On Saturday, the SAR government announced it would optimize the city’s testing rules by recognizing the results of rapid antigen tests. Also, tests results gathered by contractors will be deemed reliable in confirming infections and high-risk groups can take the rapid antigen tests instead of mandatory deep throat saliva tests.

Sixty-seven of the 83 reported dead on Sunday were elderly people in residential care homes. An additional 27 deaths were not reported earlier because of information delays, bringing the total deaths to 717.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the government has sought help from the mainland by hiring 1,000 additional workers as temporary caretakers for three months as many nursing homes have staffing shortages due to the surge of infections.

The government also plans to relax rules on importing laborers and will discuss it on Monday.

Help continued to pour in from the private sector. SINOMAX, a Hong Kong enterprise based in Dongguan, donated commodities worth over 8 million yuan ($1.27 million) for the mobile-cabin hospitals being constructed, including pillows and mattresses. Also, a group of Hong Kong doctors formed a volunteer support team to advise people on home quarantine via video calls for seven consecutive days starting on Friday.

Starting on Saturday, residents began to receive anti-pandemic proprietary Chinese medicines, medical protective gear, such as N95 and KN95 face masks, and rapid antigen test kits donated from the mainland.

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