HONG KONG: Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has called on local health authorities to take urgent measures to cope with a deadly flu outbreak - one of the city's worst in recent history.
According to the South China Morning Post, 157 people have died so far since the outbreak started in May. The worst such flu outbreak was in 2012, when 222 people died.
This year's peak flu season is expected to last another two weeks and with the situation expected to worsen, doctors have warned the public to be more wary and seek treatment immediately especially for vulnerable members of the population such as the elderly and very young children.
In the past week, three children have contracted a severe influenza A virus, which has led to an investigation by the Centre for Health Protection.
Among them is a two-year-old baby girl who died. A 19-month-old boy is in stable condition, while a three-year-old girl is still in critical condition. All three did not receive seasonal flu shots.
Health experts say that the outbreak of the summer flu is unusually strong. “In the past two weeks, some 1,000 patients needed to be admitted to general medical wards of public hospitals every day. Usually, such a situation would last about two or three days and we would be able to cope with it. But this year, it lasted for more than 10 days,” Dr Cheung Wai-lun, the Hospital Authority’s acting chief executive told SCMP.
“Sometimes, the summer season is high, sometimes it’s low. This year, it’s particularly high,” said Professor Paul Chan, chair of the department of microbiology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s mainly due to the Influenza A H3 virus. This virus is relatively new. It first hit Hong Kong in 2015. We see cases in both the elderly, with some pre-existing conditions and the very young.”
It does not help that hospitals are running at overcapacity. The Prince of Wales Hospital’s general medical ward was at 122 per cent capacity when Channel NewsAsia visited. Patients with non-life threatening conditions have reported waiting up to six hours and those admitted to a general ward are said to wait much longer.
The hospital authority said it hopes the manpower crunch will ease with the arrival of 100 new doctors and 2,000 nurses by the end of September. It said it would also hire more part-time doctors and request nurses who were on holiday to get back to work.