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Hong Kong and South Korea struggle to cope with the new wave of epidemics

Hong Kong hospitals have been overwhelmed for weeks. Meanwhile, the death toll increased. Less than three months since the outbreak of the new outbreak, Hong Kong has recorded more than 800,000 infections and more than 6,500 deaths from nCoV, most of which are elderly people who have not been vaccinated.

The city’s funeral homes are also full until mid or late April. “Although authorities have increased the capacity of crematoriums to process 260-280 bodies per day, the situation remains unresolved.”chairman of the Hong Kong Funeral Business Association Kwok Hoi-bong said.

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A body bag is placed next to a ventilator patient’s bed at a hospital in Hong Kong. (Photo: Hong Kong Free Press)

Health workers are exhausted when they have to work up to 80 hours a week. The wave of Omicron swept through nursing homes and low vaccination rates made Hong Kong the place to record the death rate from COVID-19 the world’s highest.

The breakdown of the health system

This is something few could expect when Hong Kong used to keep the number of infections and deaths very low for nearly 2 years of the outbreak.

Calvin Kong, an emergency doctor at a public hospital, said he and his colleagues were living in “hell on earth”, reminiscent of the early days of the epidemic in Wuhan in 2019.

“We have a lot of time and experience, but we are suffering from the breakdown of the health care system. Health authorities have not learned from the past two years.“, Kong shared.

Experts say that it is the good fight against the epidemic in the early stages that makes the city government subjective and unprepared for a new outbreak that many warn is inevitable.

“No COVID-19 measures can’t stop the virus from entering, only delay it. In Hong Kong, we can’t stop an outbreak once it’s formed. That’s exactly what it is. happenning”, Ben Cowling, Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Hong Kong University of Public Health said.

The Omicron variant has been raging in Hong Kong since mid-February. Hong Kong has recorded more than 800,000 cases since the outbreak began in late December. However, researchers at the University of Hong Kong estimate that nearly half of the city’s 7.4 million people have died. have COVID-19.

Although this outbreak peaked on March 4, it is estimated that the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong could reach 4.5 million before this wave ends.

Before the 5th wave of COVID-19 epidemic, Hong Kong only recorded a total of 212 COVID-19 deaths. This number is now up to 6,700 people. The mortality rate in Hong Kong is 0.6%.

Similar outbreaks occurred in Singapore and New Zealand, which soon transitioned to a state of living with COVID-19. The difference in Hong Kong, according to experts, is that the city is not fully prepared to deal with the new wave.

“The government and the management agencies don’t have a backup plan until the end of February. They don’t anticipate what they need to do when the epidemic breaks out in medical facilities and nursing homes.” Adrian Kwan, a resident doctor at a public hospital.

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Hospitals in Hong Kong are constantly overcrowded. (Photo:

Hong Kong’s epidemic response policy depends on cutting the infection chain as soon as clusters are detected. Any positive case, with or without symptoms, will require hospitalization. Close contacts of this case will be required to be isolated for 3 weeks. But when Omicron appeared, the number of cases skyrocketed, making city officials unable to react.

In the context of the increasing death toll, the Hong Kong government is still quite slow to adjust the policy. In recent weeks, officials announced plans for mass testing and raced to build more isolation facilities. However, medical experts disagree with this direction. They say the current priority should be to save lives.

In the face of fierce protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the postponement of the plan for mass testing, focusing on reducing the number of deaths and serious cases.

While insisting city officials have gone to great lengths to deal with the pandemic, Lam admits they still haven’t done enough to convince the elderly to get vaccinated.

Only about 35% of people over the age of 80 in Hong Kong have received 2 doses of the vaccine.

Many elderly people in Hong Kong say they do not want to get vaccinated because of side effects, while others do not feel at risk of infection. It is this subjective mentality that makes many of them a burden on hospitals that are already overwhelmed with patients.

Record of infections but still loosening epidemic prevention

On March 23, the total number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea exceeded 10 million cases, equivalent to 20% of the population.

This country is facing the worst wave of epidemics ever in the context of the Omicron mutation spreading at breakneck speed.

For the past several weeks, the Northeast Asian country has continuously recorded hundreds of infections every day.

At its peak on March 17, the country reported a record 621,328 cases in 24 hours, up 55% from the previous day and 429 deaths.

However, the positive sign in South Korea is that its death rate is much lower than in other countries. The figure is now 0.13%, down sharply from 0.88% two months ago, even as the number of cases spiked during the same time period.

The high number of daily cases in South Korea is partly due to the country’s persistent pursuit of large-scale testing, rigorous tracing using technology to identify high-risk cases to prioritize treatment.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said the country has spent about $1.3 billion on testing since the beginning of the epidemic. South Korea’s testing capacity is also very respectable as the country can perform a million PCR tests per day.

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South Korea is still pursuing a strategy of extensive testing and strict tracing. (Photo: AP)

Some experts believe thatThe difference between Korea and Hong Kong, which was once seen as the world’s anti-epidemic model, is that Seoul has learned from previous outbreaks and has a high vaccination rate among the elderly.

Nearly 87% of the country’s 52 million people are fully vaccinated. 63% of the population received booster shots, in which the percentage of people 60 years old and older getting the 3rd shot was nearly 90%.

These rates are among the highest in the world.

Currently, despite recording the highest number of infections in the world, South Korea is still confident to lift anti-epidemic restrictions thanks to its low mortality rate.

A few days ago, the land of kimchi pushed the “curfew” for restaurants to 11 pm, stopped using the vaccination certificate card, and at the same time removed the isolation regulations for some groups of tourists.

South Korean health officials insist they are better prepared to deal with the rise and fall of the pandemic. The key lies in agile transitions and quick reactions.

However, Professor Choi Jae-wook, Korea Medical University warned officials and people not to be subjective.

“The easing of epidemic prevention measures will certainly lead to more deaths and criticalities. The government should not be complacent, even if there are enough intensive care beds. We need proactive measures, anticipating all situations.” Mr. Choi warned.

On March 24, South Korea recorded a record 470 deaths from COVID-19 within 24 hours. The number of deaths in recent weeks has led to overcrowding at crematoriums.

According to statistics, 28% of crematoriums in Seoul city are operating at 114.2 percent capacity. The rate in Sejong and Jeju, is about 83%. In some areas, the patient’s family has to contact other localities that are not overwhelmed to reserve a place for cremation.

From last week, South Korean officials increased the total cremation capacity nationwide from 1,000 cases to 1,400 cases/day, and asked crematoriums to work overtime and expand more facilities.

Besides the number of deaths, cases of COVID-19 becoming seriously ill are also on the rise in South Korea.

Park Hyang – an official of the Korean Ministry of Health said that the number of severe COVID-19 cases in South Korea has surpassed 1,000 cases in the past two weeks and is forecast to reach 2,000 cases in early April.

As of March 23, the occupancy rate of hospital beds in emergency departments was 64.4%. This figure 2 weeks ago was 59%.

“The health system is under great pressure even though the epidemic situation is still under control. We will focus more on high-risk groups, test regularly so that there are no blind spots in our efforts to deal with the epidemic.”Mr. Park confirmed.

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