‘Short isolation for hospital staff based on science’

An infectious diseases expert said on Thursday that he believes it is safe for Hospital Authority staff who catch Covid to return to work if they test negative for the virus seven days after their first positive test.

The Hospital Authority announced the move on Wednesday to help ease a manpower crunch in public hospitals which have seen hundreds of infections among staff recently.

The general public, however, must isolate for at least 14 days if they become infected.

On a radio programme, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said the move to relax the requirements for hospital staff is based on science.

“Generally, almost 100 percent of these staff members are fully vaccinated, so their recovery time could be very fast. If the test results come back negative instead of positive, broadly speaking, that individual is no longer infectious,” he said.

“People should not be worried, including patients staying in hospitals or their family members. There’s scientific evidence proving that this will not affect patients. So this is a suitable arrangement.”

Ho said the general public should still follow the stricter isolation rules, but added that he believes there might be adjustments in the future.

A chief manager of the Hospital Authority, Lau Ka-hin, also defended the new arrangement for medical workers, saying the Centre for Health Protection and infection control experts agreed to it.

He said with more than 1,600 public hospital staff infected, those who come down with Covid want to get back on the frontline as soon as possible, to take a share of the high workload of their colleagues.

“I want to thank our colleagues here. Everyone understands, at this time, every [staff member] is a soldier, each and every colleague is very important. I thank them for their cooperation, holding their ground and working hard to fight Covid,” Lau said at the daily Covid press conference.

Separately, the Hospital Authority urged people to avoid seeking treatment at the accident and emergency departments of Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Kwong Wah Hospital if their medical situation is not serious, and to instead turn to general out-patients clinics or private doctors.

The authority said the two public hospitals were seeing a surge in patient numbers.

The authority also appealed to Covid-19 patients with milder symptoms to seek treatment at the designated clinics across the territory.