- Hospital Authority confirms bungle was potential threat to other patients and medical staff
- Top microbiologist calls for extension to Lunar New Year holidays, warning the next few days are critical to stop contagion
Health officials in Hong Kong have apologised for putting a patient with the new coronavirus in the wrong ward, raising fears for the safety of others.
The Hospital Authority on Saturday revealed a 62-year-old infected woman from Wuhan was kept in a ward at Tuen Mun Hospital for up to four hours without negative room pressure, which is designed to prevent germs or any body fluid from spreading.
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Dr Chung Kin-lai, director of quality and safety of the Hospital Authority, confirmed the error could have put patients, doctors and other staff in the hospital at risk.
"We want to apologise for this incident and the imperfect handling," Chung said.
The woman was the third out of a total of five confirmed Hong Kong cases of the novel coronavirus, which emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan but has since spread across the country and other parts of the world, killing at least 41.
Tuen Mun Hospital's Accident & Emergency (A&E) department received two suspected cases of the Wuhan virus on Thursday night.
It is understood that one of the patients, who was eventually found not to have the virus, was held in a ward with negative room pressure " but the woman later confirmed as infected was placed in a room designed only for the treatment of wounds.
Chung said: "The two rooms with negative pressure were in use, so the patient (confirmed with virus) was placed in a third room pending treatment for three to four hours.
"But we subsequently found that it is a room without negative room pressure, and this could affect medics and other patients."
The revelation has taken staff at the hospital by surprise. "Doctors carried on treating the patients in that same room. We were not briefed and we only heard about it from the news," said a medical source who declined to be named.
Chung said the impact of the mistake was still being investigated. He said the room involved was not close to the main lobby, where footfall is high.
"We need to undertake further risk assessments," he said, adding the room had already been cleaned.
As of Saturday, five medical staff from public hospitals suspected of being infected had been placed under medical surveillance. Of those, three came out negative for the new coronavirus and tests were ongoing for the other two.
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Meanwhile, leading microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung warned the new virus could spread rapidly between families who had gathered for Lunar New Year and called for public holidays to be extended until the situation was more stable.
That would prevent students from mainland China bringing the virus into local schools or universities, Yuen said.
"The next few days could be the last window of opportunity to stop the infection from spreading by silently infected mainlanders that crossed the border into Hong Kong or Macau," Yuen said in a message posted by his University of Hong Kong colleague, Ho Pak-leung.
"Hong Kong or Macau or other world cities could easily become another Wuhan or another 2003 Hong Kong."
Warning of the need to stock up on masks, disinfectants and other materials, he called for authorities to promote the universal wearing of masks outside the home and the frequent use of alcohol hand sanitisers "before it is too late".
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