Test-bottle race as docs fear lawsuits

Local | Jane Cheung 10 Jun 2020

Private doctors rushed to obtain Covid-19 sampling bottles after microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung warned they could be sued for failing to test symptomatic patients who later become seriously ill.

Private practitioner Jeff Au Yeung Ying-kit said on Facebook that he faxed the department of health requesting 20 bottles on Monday, and the department responded by asking him to collect 10 on Friday.

"Didn't they say we should also test people with the mildest symptoms? Ten bottles can't even last a quarter of the day," he wrote.

He criticized the government for the "poor arrangements" and "pushing the responsibilities to frontline doctors."

Yuen, a government adviser, was pointing to the emergence of a local cluster in Luk Chuen House in Sha Tin's Lek Yuen Estate. A 34-year-old woman had visited a doctor three times without being given a Covid-19 test.

The woman was later identified as a likely "superspreader" after she passed the virus to her husband and six other residents at Luk Chuen House.

A former president of the Hong Kong College of Family Physicians, Angus Chan Ming-wai, said his clinic has been giving out sample bottles from other sources.

"I heard the department doesn't give out many bottles to doctors. Maybe they don't have enough stock for us," he said.

But he said he is planning to register for bottles with the department to cut costs.

"Even if they give me 10 bottles, it's better than nothing," he said. "But in fact, we barely have patients with respiratory symptoms now. Most of those people with these symptoms don't come to private clinics. They'd go to hospital accident and emergency rooms."

A private doctor who preferred to remain anonymous said more doctors have been rushing to get bottles from the government.

"They only give us a few bottles. It seems like they prefer us to get new ones every day but we don't have that much manpower," he said.

He added that the application process for bottles is "too old-school."

"Communications between clinics and the department are done by fax. I don't know why we can't just fill out online forms telling them how many bottles we want and they [can] arrange couriers," he said.

But he said not all patients are willing to be tested, especially elderly patients who think their symptoms come from allergies or the common cold and refuse to be tested.

"Even if we give patients saliva bottles, we won't actually know if they turn them in to the government clinics."

This came as Hong Kong yesterday saw no new Covid-19 case - the fifth day without any local infection.

The tally stands at 1,108, including four deaths.

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