Clinics to stay open for flu fight

Top News | Jane Cheung 13 Jan 2020

All public general outpatient clinics, except those in the outlying islands, will remain open over the Lunar New Year holiday to cope with the winter flu surge amid concerns of the new Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in central China, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said.

This came as the winter flu season started last week.

The Centre for Health Protection reported 95 cases of the flu in 23 institutional outbreaks in the first four days of last week, up significantly from 15 cases in four outbreaks in the previous two weeks.

A high service demand was seen yesterday at accident and emergency wards of public hospitals, with waiting times at United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong and Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung expected to be over six hours.

Public hospitals on Saturday were also running at overcapacity, with average occupancy in internal medicine wards at 104 percent. Caritas Medical Centre in Cheung Sha Wan saw the highest occupancy at 129 percent.

On his blog, Cheung said the government is bracing for the flu and the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak and will release the latest information to the public as early as possible.

As hospitals typically see a rush of patients over the Lunar New Year holiday, Cheung said public general out-patient clinics in 17 districts will remain open during the four-day holiday - from January 25 to 28 - to ease hospitals' burden.

"During the winter influenza season, we also encourage people to make use of services provided by private practitioners and private hospitals," Cheung said, adding that organizations have called for private clinics to open over the holiday.

He encouraged people to get vaccinated. Cheung said the government's school vaccination outreach program has covered 80 percent of primary schools and 70 percent of nursery centers and kindergartens.

As of late last month, over 1.19 million citizens have taken the flu jab under government subsidies and outreach programs, 17 percent more than that of 2018. The coverage of children aged six months to 11 years old went up to 55 percent from 45 percent last season.

But the coverage of seniors above the age of 65 fell to 40 percent from 43 percent.

The school outreach vaccination program was extended to kindergartens and nursery centers last winter after widespread flu outbreaks in the past two years forced schools to shut a week early for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee echoed Cheung's call and asked people to get the flu jab.

"The vaccine offers protection to similar virus strands and can lower the severity of the infection and reduce chances of developing complications," she wrote on her blog.

She said the vaccine would take around two weeks to become effective.

"People who have not taken the flu jab in the past six months or longer should receive the injection as soon as possible in order to enhance protection," she said.

She also reminded people traveling abroad to pay attention to news about flu outbreaks at their destinations.

Chan said the Hospital Authority has allocated HK$732 million to its seven clusters for additional manpower and beds amid the winter service demand surge.

In addition to 506 new beds opened this year, 900 extra beds can be provided when necessary.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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