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Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020

Hong Kong set to build at least two temporary Covid-19 hospitals

Temporary hospitals will be used to treat patients in more serious condition, with one of them to be built near AsiaWorld-Expo, government source says.
Hong Kong will build at least two temporary hospitals for Covid-19 patients and expand existing makeshift facilities with the help of mainland Chinese experts deployed to the city, adding as many as 2,400 beds to capacity, the Post has learned.

The plans, which include an up to tenfold rise in daily coronavirus testing, were revealed on Monday as Hong Kong broke a 12-day streak of triple-digit increases in new Covid-19 cases, confirming another 80 infections. The city’s tally stood at 3,589 cases, with 38 related deaths.

However, health officials and experts urged residents not to lower their guard, saying it was still too early to conclude from one day’s numbers that the trend was falling.

“Of course, I hope it’s really decreasing but we still have to observe for a few days,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection.

The government announced on Monday that a series of social distancing measures that were set to expire on Tuesday would continue for another week. The measures include social gatherings capped at two people, the closure of more than a dozen types of establishments, mandatory mask-wearing in public areas and a ban on restaurant dine-in services at night.

To combat the city’s third and deadliest wave of the coronavirus, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had sought help from the mainland to carry out wider screening and build makeshift hospitals.

A team of seven experts arrived on Sunday while another 60 people were expected to follow, including six to help with the design and development of makeshift hospitals.

At least three facilities would be built with their help, multiple sources said.

The first would be in Hall 2 of the AsiaWorld-Expo exhibition centre for patients with mild symptoms. It would be an expansion of the makeshift hospital in Hall 1, which was built by the Hospital Authority with 500 beds and opened on Saturday. Some 400 beds were transported to Hong Kong from Shenzhen on Sunday night and would be used there.

“We thank the mainland government for its staunch support, managing to source 400 bed sets at the Hospital Authority’s request within 48 hours,” said the body’s chairman, Henry Fan Hung-ling.

A source familiar with the current collaboration between Hong Kong and the mainland said at least two temporary hospitals – treating patients in more serious condition – would be built.

“They will start with a piece of land near AsiaWorld-Expo and possibly at another four-hectare site at Kai Tak near the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital,” the source said. “Each temporary hospital may have up to 1,000 beds.”

A government source also confirmed that one of the hospitals, the Asian World Forum Community Treatment Facilities, would be built on a 570,000 sq ft site originally reserved for the phase two expansion of AsiaWorld-Expo.

“With the global [pandemic] explosion continuing, Hong Kong needs to be prepared for a fourth wave and a winter surge. So we need to build more isolation beds. The new temporary hospitals will all be equipped with negative-pressure wards.”

AsiaWorld-Expo would operate as a community facility similar to Hongshan Stadium in Wuhan, the mainland city where coronavirus cases were first recorded, while the other two sites would be built like the temporary Leishenshan Hospital, also in Wuhan, which was speedily constructed and handled more severely ill coronavirus patients, according to the source.

One of a six-strong team from Wuhan responsible for the Hong Kong project said he would plan the facilities based on the city’s laws and regulations.

“We built the previous hospitals using the relevant laws and regulations of the mainland, so when we come to Hong Kong, we have to meet the local conditions and communicate with the experts in the city,” said Xie Hu, one of the designers of Leishenshan Hospital, which was built in 10 days.

“We hope to bring our experience over and work in accordance with local standards and regulations,” he told a local television station.

People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said in an online article the draft design of the first makeshift facility had been completed.

It was not immediately clear how long it would take to build the other two hospitals from scratch.

The mainland teams would also help boost the city’s Covid-19 testing capacity.

Yu Dewen, leader of the expert team and a member of Guangdong province’s health commission, said they had a target of increasing capacity to 200,000 tests a day, from the current 20,000 to 30,000.

Health authorities were limited to 10,000 tests each day while three private companies contracted by the government to conduct community nucleic acid testing could do around 20,000, he said.

Yu told Xinhua news agency his team would first look at the work processes and equipment of the three lab companies, Shenzhen-headquartered BGI, Macau’s China Inspection Company and Hong Kong-based Prenetics.

The team would mainly work with BGI, according to another government source. BGI chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, a former Hospital Authority chief, met the seven experts on Monday.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, an infectious disease expert from the University of Hong Kong, said the government could consider setting up test stations in the city’s 18 districts.

“The whole [testing] process has to be faster than the spread of the virus … with the help of the mainland, the government can set up more than 100 or 200 street testing stations, while it can also help those exempted from quarantine measures to take the tests,” he said.

Another expert, Professor David Hui Shu-cheong of Chinese University, said testing could also be prioritised for other high-risk groups such as minibus and bus drivers, supermarket staff, especially cashiers, and residents of certain districts.

He said the more tests that could be done, the better to tackle the third wave of cases.

Hui also said a fall in the number of cases with unknown origin was good news. “A large part of it is because the government closed the loophole of a lack of testing and quarantine for sea crews and aircrew members,” he said.
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