Hong Kong’s first makeshift hospital will start to take in 500 younger and healthier Covid-19 patients on Saturday at the earliest in a bid to relieve pressure on the city’s public health system as the coronavirus crisis worsens.
Hospital chiefs on Thursday unveiled details of the facility, set up at the AsiaWorld-Expo exhibition centre near the airport, and announced that coronavirus patients between the ages of 18 and 60, except those who were in an unstable or severe condition, would be admitted there for treatment.
Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Hong Kong who helped devise the scheme, said patients would be separated into three groups upon arrival at the “mobile cabin hospital”.
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Asymptomatic patients with a clear lung scan who did not require oxygen support would be placed under further observation for 48 to 72 hours before transferral to Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village, a community isolation facility that started operating last week, while those with symptoms such as a fever would remain at AsiaWorld-Expo.
Those with pneumonia and in need of oxygen support would be transferred to a hospital for more intensive care and treatment.
“This is a quick and safe approach after taking reference from the World Health Organisation as well as countries like China, South Korea and Italy where patients over 60 years old are shown to have a higher risk of complications, in need of intensive care and a higher death rate,” Hung said.
Hong Kong has been hit by a resurgent third wave of Covid-19, which has pushed the total tally of infections to 3,151 with another record high 149 cases recorded on Thursday. Isolation beds and wards at public hospitals have been squeezed to the limit, with 77 and 80 per cent occupancy rate on Thursday respectively.
Dr Chung Kin-lai, director for quality and safety at the Hospital Authority, said the new facility was needed as the current wave of infections was “two or three times stronger” than the last one in March.
He noted Thursday was the ninth straight day with more than 100 new infections confirmed, while the highest daily count in the second wave was 65 cases.
While there were 670 inpatients at the height of March’s epidemic, there were now about 1,200 confirmed patients, between 100 to 200 preliminary confirmed patients as well as other suspected cases in the city’s hospitals, he said.
Officials said 14 doctors and 45 nurses would be drawn from various public hospital departments such as surgery and family medicine to look after patients at AsiaWorld-Expo, where X-rays, and blood and deep throat saliva tests would be available. No medication however, would be administered there.
Thirty-one toilets, five showers, and two common resting areas with sofa and tables, would also be available in the makeshift hospital. Officials believed the chance of cross infection was low as all the patients there had the same disease and regular disinfection would take place.
Dr Vincent Cheng Chi-chung, an infection control officer with the authority, said even though the exhibition hall had no negative pressure facilities, there would be an estimated 80 litres of air per second for each person there which would dilute any virus particles emitted by a patient, adding fans had been installed to change the air flow and make sure air particles stayed in the hall.
Dr Larry Lee Lap-yip, an accident and emergency consultant at Tin Shui Wai Hospital, said the authority already had plans to expand the hospital into more exhibition halls on the site, but he brushed aside speculation that medical workers from mainland China would be asked to help. “At the moment there is no need for them to help,” he said.