The Accident and Emergency services in Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK

Hong Kong’s hospitals are crowded with thousands of patients before the winter flu season officially arrives in the city in a few days.

On Monday, the number of people who used the Accident and Emergency (A&E) services reached 6,287 people, compared with 5,380 people on Sunday, according to the Hospital Authority.

The medical inpatient bed occupancy rate was 111% on average. It means some patients had to stay in hospital corridors. The occupancy rates reached 136% in Caritas Medical Centre, 125% in Tok Oi Hospital and 124% in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

On Saturday, Ho Pak-leung, the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, said the winter flu season would arrive right after the Christmas holidays, or in early January, as the temperature and humidity had fluctuated this week. He added that some districts in Guangdong province had already entered the flu’s peak season.

Ho urged the public to take the initiative and get flu jabs as early as possible to avoid being infected by the winter flu.

Since the government rolled out a school outreach vaccination program, the percentage of primary school pupils who have received flu jabs increased to 57% from the previous level of 16%, while the percentage for kindergarten students also grew to 37% from 15%.

However, only 7% of people aged 50-64 have received flue jabs.

Ho said the government could do more and set up a steering committee to oversee flu prevention measures. He said the steering committee could be co-chaired by officials from the Food and Health and Education Bureaux. Members should include patients, parents and medical care providers in the public and private sectors.

The committee would coordinate the procurement and distribution of vaccines as there were some unused jabs every year, Ho said. And it could also educate the public about the vaccines because there are some misunderstandings about how safe the jabs are.

Last week, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the Secretary for Food and Health, said the flu peak season would arrive around the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.

She said the government bought 150,000 more flu jabs this year and also launched some new measures to meet the expected surge in demand for the flu shots. She added that the government had implemented a public-private partnership program to encourage private doctors to open their clinics.

However, Kwok Ka-ki, a lawmaker representing the medical functional constituency, said the low percentage of people aged 50-64 who have received flu jabs showed that the government had not done enough to educate the public about the importance of vaccine injections.

He said government clinics tended to provide flu jabs mainly to those aged above 65 or with long term illnesses, while ignoring other age groups.

Arisina Ma Chung-yee, Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association’s president, said a lot of people were reminded to receive flu jabs after there were media reports about some flu-related deaths. Ma said the government should promote vaccine injections earlier, instead of waiting until the flu season started.

People who travel during the Christmas and New Year holidays were recommended to receive flu jabs before their departures, said Martin Wong Chi-sang, the Associate Director, The Jockey Club School of Public Care Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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