Mainland to expand help as HK reports new record infections
City to streamline procedures for accessing medical resources in supplementing anti-epidemic battle
Published: Feb 27, 2022 10:00 PM
A temporary isolation facility for COVID-19 patients at Penny's Bay on February 25, 2022 in Hong Kong. The mainland commissioned a construction team to build 10,000 isolation and treatment units for patients at Penny's Bay and Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Photo: VCG

A temporary isolation facility for COVID-19 patients at Penny's Bay on February 25, 2022 in Hong Kong. The mainland commissioned a construction team to build 10,000 isolation and treatment units for patients at Penny's Bay and Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Photo: VCG

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) reported a record high of 26,026 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total amid the fifth wave of the outbreak to more than 150,000. As the number of infections continues to rocket, local hospitals are struggling with shortages of manpower, facilities and experience in treating severe infections, for which the Chinese mainland is ready to offer any help at the request of Hong Kong. 

Local health authorities announced on Sunday that as of Sunday, there had been over 150,000 infections amid the fifth wave of the outbreak. The city has also recently adjusted its testing procedures by allowing some residents to test from home instead of going to designated testing centers, which require long lines.

If the result from a rapid test kit shows a positive result, the person would be considered as a positive case and advised not to go outdoors and undergo self-quarantine if the household environment permits. 

The city has been recording double-digit numbers in the death toll caused by the outbreak in recent days, and local authorities said on Sunday that 83 people passed away in the previous 24 hours, ranging from 19 to 100 years old. Sixty people were in critical condition, local media reported. 

The total death toll of the fifth wave has reached 402, all of whom passed away in the past week, highlighting the severe issue, with the local health system in Hong Kong having been overwhelmed by the surging numbers. 

Carrie Lam, chief executive of the HKSAR government, met with several epidemiologists from the Guangdong provincial health commission to discuss how to enhance the hierarchical treatment and reduce severely critical cases as well as the death toll, in order to better allocate medical resources to individual cases.

Irons Sze Wing Wai, a member of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory, said he tested positive for COVID-19 the day that he arrived in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong neighboring Hong Kong, on his way to the upcoming two sessions in Beijing in early March. He had a fever and is now under quarantine. 

He said he felt regret as 10 others on the same bus from Hong Kong to Shenzhen as he was have to be isolated for 21 days, and can't fly to Beijing for the annual political gathering. 

"Given the severe epidemic situation in Hong Kong, I think we need to focus on treating elderly people and patients in critical condition. Also, traditional Chinese medicines like Lianhua Qingwen are very useful," Sze said.

Also, the city has been facing a shortage of medical staff and equipment, which is the most urgent issue, he noted. 

Given the shortage of manpower, Fan Hung-ling, chairman of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, told the Global Times in a recent interview that hopefully, the central government could dispatch more medical staff from the mainland, probably from 3,000 to 5,000 in the first batch, besides thousands of nucleic acid testing staff, to support Fangcang makeshift hospitals and quarantine sites. 

"I believe many of our medical staff in the mainland are willing to offer help," Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Sunday. "However, it's not that easy as Hong Kong has a different system of practicing medical services, not like we offer help from one mainland city to another," he said. 

"As long as this issue could be handled, we could offer help at the request of the HKSAR authorities, as it's a very urgent issue for them considering that there are infections among medical staff," Zeng noted. 

The current health care system in Hong Kong is facing the risk of being overloaded, and the shortage of medical staff is the bottleneck. It will be a major breakthrough if medical workers from the mainland are allowed to participate directly in Hong Kong's fight against the epidemic, Feng Zijian, who participated in the supervision of the mainland's anti-epidemic efforts in Hong Kong, was quoted as saying in a Xinhua report on Sunday. 

The HKSAR government invoked a new emergency regulation on Thursday to provide the legal basis for anti-epidemic measures, including making more flexible and rapid use of the mainland's support and resources when needed, and carrying out key anti-epidemic projects at full speed.

"The power of the chief executive to formulate emergency law is unlimited under the Constitution and Basic Law," Louis Chen, committee member of the All-China Youth Federation and member of the Election Committee (fifth sector), told the Global Times on Sunday, as with the implementation of the regulation, mainland medical staff could practice medicine in Hong Kong, streamlining the mainland's assistance in the city's anti-epidemic battle. 

Law Chi-kwong, Hong Kong's Secretary for Labor and Welfare, said in a blog post on Sunday that due to the shortage of manpower in nursing houses across the city, the authority adopted two special measures by directly hiring 1,000 temporary contracted caregivers from the mainland for three months, and authorities streamlined relevant procedures to allow them to work in Hong Kong. 

The HKSAR government also asked for help from the central government to coordinate the application approval procedures, and the first batch of caregivers is expected to arrive in Hong Kong soon and receive basic training. 

With the support of the central government, there are eight Fangcang makeshift hospitals under construction, and the one in Tsing Yi is expected to be put into use in the coming week, which could provide over 3,800 beds. 

"The urgent tasks for Hong Kong are to put infected people into collective quarantine in order to cut off community transmission, and to accelerate vaccinations, especially among the elderly people," Lu Hongzhou, head of the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

"The mainland is ready to offer help to Hong Kong at its request," he said, noting that it's also important to provide the mainland's experience of treating severely ill patients to Hong Kong hospitals, and of preventing a surging death toll.