New ideas for testing regime

Local | Jane Cheung and Michael Shum 2 Apr 2020

People who have returned to Hong Kong and develop coronavirus symptoms during home quarantine may be sent to AsiaWorld-Expo to be tested for Covid-19 and stay there until results are known.

This message from the Hospital Authority came yesterday after some returnees said they had to wait at home for up to four days after being diagnosed before ambulances took them to hospitals because isolation wards were bursting at the seams.

And by mid-afternoon yesterday four people who tested positive for the virus were still waiting at home.

Authority executive for quality and safety Lau Ka-hin noted that AsiaWorld-Expo next to the airport has been used for tests for symptomatic arrivals since March 20 and 689 people had been tested. And 42 of them tested positive.

"But the number of arrivals has been going down," he said, "and we would like to better utilize the test center. So we have started to send some symptomatic people under home quarantine there for tests.

"By doing so these people won't be sent to hospitals until results are positive, and we can relieve pressure for hospital beds as we can save the isolation facilities for confirmed cases."

Asked about risks of cross-infection while awaiting results, Lau said the venue has designated areas with infection controls.

"But not all symptomatic home-quarantined people will be sent to the expo," he said. "We've also set up triage stations for people pending test results at some public hospitals."

The announcement came as the authority's former director for quality and safety, Derrick Au Kit-sing, said it was "illogical" for Covid-19 patients to wait several days before admission.

"Leaving newly confirmed patients in the community is a relatively big problem as the virus is highly contagious from newly confirmed patients," he said.

It did not make sense, he said, for hospitals to be careful about discharging patients who have recovered and require repeated tests before they can go home while leaving confirmed patients on the street.

"Hospitals could revise guidelines to only require recovered patients to test negative twice before being discharged," he said. That would make space for newly confirmed patients.

He also called on officials to consider moving patients carrying less of a viral load or near full recovery to other places to free up beds.

Au also said officials should be planning for two or three weeks ahead.

He was pointing to how authorities decided to close karaoke lounges only after infections were reported.

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