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Hong Kong residents take photos of Christmas decorations at the waterfront promenade in West Kowloon Cultural District. The Hospital Authority has advised people to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu as the weather turns cooler. Photo: Nora Tam

Hong Kong expecting increase in number of patients at public hospitals during winter, health authorities say

  • Children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases remain likely to be affected by respiratory tract infection, the Hospital Authority’s Dr Michael Wong says
  • More manpower, support services to be enhanced during festive periods to cope with potential surge in patients
Hong Kong is expecting an increase in the number of patients at public hospitals during winter to levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic, health authorities have said, even as the effect of seasonal influenza is likely to be reduced as a result of the adoption of universal masking.

Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases remain likely to be affected by respiratory tract infection as the weather turns cooler, according to Dr Michael Wong Lap-gate, chief manager of cluster performance at the Hospital Authority.

“As social activities have largely returned to normal, the chances of catching a disease or accidents occurring have returned to the level before the pandemic,” he said. More than HK$700 million (US$89.7 million) was allocated to hospital clusters to help them prepare for the potential surge in patients this year.

People queue to get vaccinated against the coronavirus at Ho Man Tin Sports Centre. The Hospital Authority has recommended an interval of 14 days between receiving seasonal flu and Covid-19 vaccines. Photo: Edmond So

About 800 temporary and 323 new beds would be added to increase capacity, Wong said, adding that there would be more ward rounds and support services enhanced during evenings, weekends and holidays to facilitate inpatient discharge and transfers.

The authority would also boost manpower to cope with the potential surge in winter.

Quotas at general outpatient clinics will be increased to allow an additional 3,500 people to be served during the Christmas, Lunar New Year and Easter holidays, and 17 public clinics will continue to cater for residents. Wong also appealed to private doctors to stay open during the festive periods.

Call for influenza shots to prevent co-infection, lung damage amid pandemic

As of November 22, around 25,000 people, or about a third of the authority’s health care staff, had been vaccinated against seasonal flu, and Wong urged residents to do the same. The authority previously recommended an interval of 14 days between receiving seasonal flu and Covid-19 vaccines.

The influenza vaccination rate in 2021 remains low, with only about 419,800 residents having taken the jab by the end of October, compared with a total of 1.3 million shots administered last year.

Wong remained optimistic the inoculation rate for flu would pick up, despite the diversion of manpower to administer Covid-19 vaccines.

Hong Kong ‘likely’ to give out seasonal flu, Covid-19 shots at same time

He added that a contingency plan had also been formulated for a possible fifth wave of the coronavirus during winter, including ensuring a sufficient number of isolation facilities and redeploying manpower to deal with a potential increase in infections. About 2,600 isolation beds have been prepared in public hospitals and at the North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre.

Dr Frank Chan Wan-kin, the authority’s chief manager of service transformation, said public service demand would continue to be diverted to the private sector. The quota for patient referrals under the public-private partnership programme on haemodialysis and trauma operative services was also increased.

An average of 20 patients were transferred to the private St Teresa’s Hospital and Hong Kong Adventist Hospital in Tsuen Wan per month for completion of treatment, he said, adding that capacity was “always flexible”.