Monday, July 6, 2020

In Hong Kong, early care of the sick helped avoid the health crisis

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At the emergency entrance to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s 47 public hospitals, ambulances unload their stretchers at regular intervals. These are routine emergencies unrelated to the Covid-19 epidemic.

"Anyway, it was very rare to see a patient with SARS-CoV-2 arriving by ambulance. Our whole strategy has been to cure the virus in the early stages, when it's still easy, " explains by way of introduction Dr Raymond Liu, head of the respiratory medicine and infectious diseases department.

Front row

In early May, the old naval hospital, which was converted for a time into a tuberculosis sanatorium, now had only two patients carrying the new virus, well isolated in double airlock rooms, maintained in negative pressure, on the floor that allowed us to visit.

China’s special administrative region of 7.4 million people identified their first patient on January 23. Out of 1,041 cases identified, 920 are now cured. In total, only four patients died, a record which makes Hong Kong an example of success in the fight against the virus. Especially since the former British colony was in the front row to bear the brunt of the epidemic that was already wreaking havoc in China.

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In addition to the daily arrival of tens of thousands of people from China until the late closing of the borders in mid-February, the demographic density of the territory, among the highest on the planet, places the inhabitants in extreme daily crowding, ideal for the rapid spread of any microbe, especially by all shared services: water and air conditioning networks, elevators, public transport, etc.

However, there has not been a single new local case in almost two weeks, to the point that, on Tuesday 5 May, the government announced a partial lifting of the few social distancing measures imposed at the end of March. The schools, which remained closed after the Lunar New Year holidays in mid-January, should reopen before the end of the month.

A "very sneaky" virus

While the strategy of some countries, including France, aimed to leave the sick at home as long as possible and ask them to call for help only in case of respiratory failure, that of Hong Kong provided, on the contrary, to identify and take charge of the patient as soon as possible in order to stop the viral attack in its early stages. Thus the risk of potential complications – mainly inflammatory, infectious and thromboembolic – was defused.

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