Coronavirus: no new confirmed cases in Hong Kong but health officials say no reason to believe outbreak has reached peak

Karen Zhang

Hong Kong is having a rare day on Saturday of no new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus as the tally stayed at 56 infections but health officials said there was no reason to believe the outbreak had reached its peak given the incubation period.

The Hospital Authority is planning to further cut non-urgent services in the next two weeks to reduce the number of people visiting public hospitals, as it only has enough stocks of masks and protective gear to last for around a month.

In a press conference on Saturday, the Centre for Health Protection said there had been no newly confirmed cases, but more time would be needed to determine developments in the city.

“Although there are no newly confirmed cases today, because the incubation period of the pathogen can be up to 14 days or even longer, it’s hard to say if the outbreak has reached its peak. We still need to monitor the conditions for some time,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the centre.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan says conditions will have to be monitored for some time. Photo: NowTV

As of Saturday, the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong was 56. Among them, five were in a critical condition, three were serious and 46 stable. One patient died earlier this month while another has been discharged.

Hong Kong last had no new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, on February 8.

Since the forced quarantine of everyone arriving from mainland China was implemented on February 8, 6,625 people had been issued with a quarantine order as of Friday, mostly Hongkongers.

Coronavirus infects 1,716 medical staff as China reports 5,090 new cases

But with the good news on Saturday came a warning from health officials over their dwindling supplies of personal protective gear and masks.

The authority has 18 million surgical masks, 2.2 million protective suits, 1.1 million N95 respirators and 500,000 protective face shields in stock for public hospitals, according to Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, chief manager of patient safety and risk management.

“There are enough stocks for one month,” she said, adding that the figures on supplies did not include items that had already been delivered to wards.

Ho warned that the global procurement of these protective items was getting more difficult.

“Some countries have identified those items as strategic commodities and have imposed export restrictions,” she said. “While in other situations there are delays in delivery … or the quantity was less than expected.”

Dr Ian Cheung Tsz-fung, the authority’s chief manager in cluster performance, said top-level protective gear would have to be kept for those medical workers on the foremost front line who needed to contact patients with the coronavirus.

He added that some non-emergency services at public hospitals would have to be further cut down to reduce the amount of patients visiting public hospitals.

“We hope hospitals will have more space and be less crowded,” Cheung said. “Also, our colleagues can focus on taking care of every patient … it will also be easier for them to comply with infection control measures.”

He said most elective surgery and check-ups such as regular endoscopy examinations would be postponed.

Follow-up appointments of more than half of patients at general outpatient, specialist and allied health clinics would also be delayed. Outreach services, unless they were for injections or wound cleansing, would also be reduced. Elderly day care services would be suspended.

“Around more than 10,000 patients per day will need to postpone their services,” he said.

But Cheung said important services such as operations and necessary check-ups for cancer patients, urgent procedures for heart disease patients or natural birth delivery would remain.

He said those with follow-up appointments in the next two weeks should be prepared for text messages or phone calls from hospital staff on possible postponement arrangements.

In other developments, Macau has not recorded a single confirmed case for 11 days in a row. Seven out of the 10 patients infected with the virus are still in isolation. Government departments, courts and the legislature will resume basic operations starting from Monday while civil servants may report to duty on flexible hours.

“The epidemic is not over yet, and citizens should not go out unless necessary,” said Ao Ieong-iu, secretary for social affairs and culture.

The Macau government has not indicated whether casinos will reopen after Wednesday, following a two-week suspension. But Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai-nong denied that some operators had considered giving up their licence.

“None of the six major operators have talked about returning their licences to the government and we have been in close communication,” Lei said. “We will consider reopening the casinos when conditions are safe.”

Additional reporting by Alvin Lum

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