Hong Kong reported 66 more suspected cases of the Wuhan coronavirus during the night as a result of broader criteria for people showing symptoms, bringing the total number of suspected cases to 236 as of 8am on Friday.
Dr Chung Kin-lai, the Hospital Authority's director of quality and safety, said the new cases were received from Friday midnight until 8am. Among the 236 patients, 119 were hospitalised and placed in isolation.
He said the two patients who were tested positive for the virus on Wednesday were in a stable condition, while adding there was no cause for alarm at the moment.
"As the Department of Health has widened its criteria for reporting a suspected case, there has been an increase in the reported cases over the past night. Anyone with relevant symptoms will be treated as a suspected case now," he said.
As of Friday noon, the death toll in mainland China hit 26, among at least 875 confirmed cases. The virus has spread to other areas of the world, including Thailand, Japan, and South Korea, while Macau reported its second case on Thursday, a 66-year-old tourist from Wuhan.
The first coronavirus patient in Hong Kong was a 39-year-old mainland tourist, who arrived at West Kowloon on Tuesday. The second, a 56-year-old Hongkonger, had visited Wuhan.
The two cases were treated as "highly suspected" after preliminary diagnostic tests returned positive results on Wednesday. Subsequent DNA test results confirmed their diagnosis on Thursday.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable diseases branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said three people who had been in close contact with the two confirmed coronavirus patients in the city had been placed in quarantine at Princess Margaret Hospital and Tuen Mun Hospital. Another five people who had close contacts with the two patients had been placed in quarantine at one of the two holiday camps set for the purpose " Lady MacLehose Holiday Village and Lei Yue Mun Park.
"So far, we've been able to trace 18 people who had close contacts with the two patients. We will keep tracking them," she said.
She said as long as those who had close contacts with the two confirmed patients were not tested positive for the virus, there was little chance for a massive outbreak of the disease in Hong Kong.
Dr Chung of the Hospital Authority said the sharp rise in the suspected cases had posed a huge burden on isolation wards, with half of 570 isolation beds taken while more than 70 per cent of 309 isolation wards occupied.
He said the Hospital Authority might have to reduce non-emergency medical procedures and services during Lunar New Year to cope with the rising demand for medical resources and manpower.
"During this period, doctors may reduce their outpatient services. We will operate our drugs refill clinics to ensure patients get their prescribed medicines. I beg for public understanding," he said.
Dr Chung said some medical workers who had shown flu symptoms had been arranged staff accommodation on various hospital premises. "So far, no medical worker has been tested positive," he said.
He also said while the authority was trying to rent hotel rooms to temporarily accommodate its workers, most hotels had turned down its requests.
He said a couple of patients who had come to hospitals with flu symptoms following visits to Wuhan, tried to run away when they knew they would be isolated. "The hospitals called police and intercepted them in the vicinity. They have already been placed in quarantine," he said.
In Macau, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau announced on Friday that following the Lunar New Year holiday, classes in non-higher education schools would be resumed on February 10 or later, instead of February 3.
Schools have been asked to make necessary arrangements so students can carry out their exercises at home, while private teaching support centres and continuing education institutions have also been asked to postpone the restart dates of their activities to February 10 or later, depending on the situation at that time.
Two patients in Macau, who have been tested positive for the virus, are receiving treatment at the Conde S. Januario Hospital. Both of them are in a stable condition.
More to follow…
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