Local expert advocates establishing three major infectious disease centres after declaring end of COVID-19 epidemic

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Professor Ivan Hung

27th March 2023 – (Hong Kong) After three years of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the society in Hong Kong has now fully resumed. Dr Ivan Hung, an infectious disease expert and the head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, stated in a radio interview that the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong has come to an end. He anticipates a slight rebound in the virus in June or July, but the current prevalent strains, Omicron BA.2 or BA.5 subvariants, have already infected many people, resulting in a high level of mixed immunity. Moreover, as viruses tend to be less active in summer, the likelihood of increased complications is relatively low.

He also pointed out that COVID-19 has become similar to respiratory infections such as influenza, parainfluenza, and human metapneumovirus. Therefore, citizens may need to receive flu and COVID-19 booster shots before entering winter each year. For those who have received three or four doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and have already contracted the virus without being in high-risk groups, booster shots may not be necessary until the end of the year.

In response to the lessons learnt from the overwhelming pressure faced by public hospitals during the peak of the fifth wave of the pandemic, Hung believes that there should be one infectious disease centre in each of the three major areas in Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories, each providing 300 to 500 negative-pressure beds and equipped with better laboratory facilities. In addition, there is a need to significantly increase the number of medical beds and healthcare professionals in the internal medicine department and improve the training of healthcare workers in handling infectious diseases.

Furthermore, during the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of cases were found in elderly people aged 80 or above, as well as patients who had received transplants or were suffering from lymphoma. These patients’ bodies are less able to clear the virus and may require 10 days of treatment with two antiviral drugs, but the inflammation may persist for several weeks, and the treatment course may take 3 to 4 weeks. Hung stated that the University of Hong Kong is collecting data and conducting research in the hope of sharing relevant treatment directions with healthcare workers around the world. The recovery rate for these patients is 70% to 80%, but there are also a few cases of death. These cases were discovered in hospitals and not from the community, accounting for 5% of the overall number of infections, and may require more concentrated care in the future.