Cowling says HK should rethink isolation strategy - RTHK
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Cowling says HK should rethink isolation strategy

2022-02-18 HKT 09:51
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  • Cowling says HK should rethink isolation strategy
Top epidemiologist, Benjamin Cowling, on Friday said Hong Kong should change its strategy to allow Covid patients to isolate at home.

Professor Cowling, from the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, said he was very concerned about seeing photographs of patients lying in hospital beds outdoors while waiting to be admitted. He said mild Covid cases should be allowed to isolate at home.

"I'm very, very concerned by the images of patients waiting outside hospitals to be admitted, when we're very aware that there're thousands of new cases every day. The hospitals don't have capacity for any more cases and, for example yesterday, they only discharged 200 Covid cases so they're not making space for patients to be admitted and we know most of the people admitted in hospital actually have relatively mild symptoms and could isolate themselves at home if they were allowed to do so," he said on RTHK's Hong Kong Today programme.

"Many of the thousands of cases reported yesterday, and the day before that, are mild cases who can isolate at home and don't need to go to hospital. I really think the change in policy needs to made as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, capacity constraints at hospitals have recently resulted in many people, who have tested positive, staying at home while waiting to be taken to hospital.

On Thursday, health authorities relaxed the criteria for discharging Covid patients to free up space at isolation facilities. Patients can now go home to quarantine in as few as seven days after testing positive, if their rapid antigen test results come back negative.

The same day Hong Kong reported 6,116 new Covid infections – another record. Authorities also announced 6,300 preliminary positive cases. The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said carrying out city-wide Covid testing was one of the options the government was considering to fight the current outbreak, once Hong Kong's testing capacity has been increased with help from the central government.

Cowling said a mass testing exercise would reduce the severity of the current Omicron outbreak.

"I think it would be a mitigation strategy, rather than a containment strategy because of the way the epidemic is going, by early to mid-March there will be hundreds of thousands of cases potentially picked up in a mass testing exercise in the city," he said.

"There's no way we can find isolation facilities for all of those people plus, potentially, quarantine facilities for their contacts."

Cowling said he didn't see how case numbers could be brought back down to zero rapidly but mass testing would certainly slow down transmission.

Earlier this week the government announced plans to house thousands of patients, with mild symptoms, in public housing and hotel rooms.

In a press release on Wednesday, it said that the Chief Executive Carrie Lam had conducted a virtual meeting with the executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, Michael Li, as well as a group of hotel owners, adding that many hotels are willing to join the Community Isolation Facility (CIF) Hotel Scheme.

"While I expressed a wish to identify some 7,000 to 10,000 hotel rooms for the purpose of isolation, I am optimistic that, through the joint efforts by the government and hotel sector, at least 10,000 hotel rooms could be made available for the CIF Hotel Scheme," Lam said.

The chief executive pointed out that the government had already secured about 4,400 rooms – some 1,700 of which will be made available before the end of this week and the remaining before the end of next week.

Dorsett Tsuen Wan will on Friday be the first such isolation facility to begin operation.