A major public hospital in Hong Kong sealed its windows with tape, installed air purifiers and postponed some medical appointments after intense rounds of tear gas were fired in the surrounding area on Monday.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei carried out the measures as Gascoigne Road, a main traffic artery next to the facility, was one of the major sites of afternoon clashes between radicals and police. Police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse the radicals.
The hospital’s nurses’ quarters and ambulatory care centre, which are closest to the road, were most affected. There was a strong smell of tear gas when the Post was there at around 3pm.
Patients were asked to stay in safe locations indoors, and those planning to visit the hospital’s specialist outpatient clinic, were asked not to do so on Monday and to reschedule their appointments.
Hospital staff distributed and wore N95 masks, which are used to protect against hazardous substances.
“We have asked colleagues and patients to close the windows,” said a nurse, who preferred not to reveal his name. “It seems the hospital is installing some ventilation machines around the place. I hope it’s not too late.”
The hospital, which has about 1,900 beds, said it had received reports from staff who smelled an “irritant” in the institution.
A “small number” of patients felt unwell, the hospital said, but they were fine after treatment. Services for patients were generally normal.
Officers of the hospital and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department inspected various departments and air filter devices would be installed if necessary. Staff also used duct tape to seal windows of wards that faced Gascoigne Road to minimise the impact.
According to a Facebook page that releases information to staff, the hospital also turned on air curtains to prevent contaminants from getting indoors.
Six portable air purifiers were also installed in some wards. More of those devices would be delivered to the hospital and placed in places deemed necessary.
The hospital’s staff clinic also stepped up services for health care workers who felt unwell after being exposed to tear gas. Staff could walk in without an appointment.
But a doctor, who declined to reveal his name, criticised the insufficient support for staff.
“Not much was done on safety issues,” he said. “N95 masks are not sufficient [to tackle tear gas]. There was also no special care for pregnant staff.”
Although the hospital arranged staff shuttle buses to several areas, the doctor said their frequency and the number of destinations were not sufficient.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, an expert in respiratory medicine from Chinese University, said people with diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis were likely to suffer more when exposed to tear gas.
“Their trachea will get irritated and be more likely to develop inflammation,” Hui said. “Allergic rhinitis will also get worse.”
But he believed that patients staying indoors were unlikely to be affected by tear gas outside, as public hospitals used a central air-conditioning system and did not open windows.
He said that because air conditioners were usually installed on the roof of a hospital block, tear gas, which was heavier than air, was less likely to contaminate the machines.
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