A shortage of protective equipment could make homes for the elderly the next battlefield in the war against Sars, concern groups warned yesterday. At least one chain of nursing homes said suppliers told them it could take up to three weeks before they receive 100 protective gowns, as stocks had run out. So far, 39 residents of about 20 elderly-care centres have been infected by Sars, the Department of Health and the Social Welfare Department said. There are about 65,000 people living in 741 aged-care centres in Hong Kong. Hospital Authority chairman Leong Che-hung sounded a warning that residents of these centres were vulnerable to the disease as they often needed treatment in hospital. 'Because elderly people are one of the so-called vulnerable groups, and they come in and out of hospitals quite often, we have to be very careful with them.' Johanna Arculli, chairwoman of Helping Hand, a non-profit group, said it had approached four suppliers but were told that no stock was available, and that it might take up to three weeks before orders were filled. Even then, the supply was not guaranteed. 'They told us: 'We are sorry, there is nothing we can do for you',' she said. Helping Hand, which runs seven homes for 720 elderly people, employs 250 nurses and carers. Mrs Arculli said staff had to use 'flimsy, cheap gowns' made on the mainland that did not offer adequate protection. 'With [elderly residents] who are more infirm and very, very sick ... it is very easy for nurses to get infected,' she said. Nursing homes are also scrambling for eye visors and ear thermometer covers, which had also run out of stock, she said. Mrs Arculli's comments came as Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said yesterday he was satisfied with precautions taken to safeguard the health of the elderly. Speaking during a visit to the TWGH Wong Cho Tong Care and Attention Home in Ho Man Tin, Mr Tung said he was concerned about preventive work among the elderly. 'Their chances of infection may be higher because of their low bodily resistance. We must take extra care at elderly homes,' he said. A spokesman for the Department of Health said recent inspections had not indicated a shortage of protective gowns or suits for workers in elderly homes.