Cold snap drives elderly to hospitals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2007, 12:00am

Homeless take refuge in temporary shelters as the temperature plunges after unseasonal warm spell

Scores of elderly people have been taken to hospital with health problems after winter weather finally arrived in Hong Kong following an exceptionally warm autumn.

The minimum temperature fell to 13.4 degrees Celsius on Friday and was expected to plunge to as low as 8 degrees in the New Territories overnight after the year began with several days of unusually warm weather.

On Friday night, 207 people took refuge in 10 temporary shelters opened by the Home Affairs Department to provide protection from the cold. The shelters were opened again last night.

A total of 1,109 elderly people pressed personal emergency buttons linking their homes to the Senior Citizens' Home Safety Organisation in the 24 hours up to midnight on Friday. A further 852 had rung for help by 5pm yesterday.

Among the callers, 134 were taken to hospital; 30 with respiratory difficulties, 20 with dizziness or fainting, and 21 with pain or heart disease.

Leung Wai-hung, acting senior scientific officer at the Hong Kong Observatory, said: 'We are now under the effect of a winter monsoon that is bringing the colder and drier weather to the south China coastal region.

'In January, it is normal that the temperature should drop below 12 degrees,' he said. 'Last year was the eighth warmest year since records began in 1884 and the monsoon in November and December was weaker than normal, which resulted in higher temperatures.

'The winter monsoon will intensify further and continue to bring cold and dry weather to the region over the next few days. Today and tomorrow, the mean temperatures will fall to about 10 degrees. We forecast that the temperature will rise slightly by mid-week and a mean temperature of around 14 degrees is expected on Wednesday.'

Timothy Ma Kam-wah , executive director of the safety group, appealed to people to keep an eye on elderly neighbours and offer them hot food during the cold snap.

'We encourage old people to leave one window slightly open to allow fresh air in so they are aware of any change in temperature,' he said.

'We would like to warn them not to drink alcohol before going to bed. Some people think this will warm them up. It will, but afterwards they will be even colder.'

Any elderly people not yet on the personal emergency system are invited to call the 24-hour hotline 2338 8312 to request a link.