Hong Kong’s experience in handling COVID-19 pandemic
A challenging problem in containing COVID-19 is that a large proportion of the patients do not have any symptoms. These hidden patients can spread the virus to others unnoticed. The lesson we learned from our bitter experience in combating SARS in 2003 has been helpful in our battle against COVID-19. When the first patient was confirmed, everyone started wearing surgical mask and keeping hand hygiene and social distancing and that helped containing the spread of the disease. Patients confirmed with COVID-19 infection are treated in designated infectious diseases wards. Family members of COVID-19 patients and those who have had close contacts with the patients are traced and put under compulsory quarantine and medical surveillance at home or at designated quarters or hotels for 14 days. Compulsory quarantine also applies to those entering Hong Kong from overseas or Mainland China.
Frontline healthcare workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients are designated as members of “dirty teams” who need to put on full PPE while on duty, i.e. wearing of N95 mask, head cover, face shield, full protective gown, gloves, and shoe covers. They rotate to normal duties after 14 days. Many dirty team members choose not go home after work if they have family members living with them. They stay at designated hotels or quarters. Medical physicists do not fall into this staff category unless they are required to provide support in high risk areas. However, they have to stay vigilant on infection control measures at all time.
The efforts made by healthcare workers, including medical physicists in Hong Kong have payoff in protecting them against COVID-19 infection. So far, no healthcare workers or their family members have been infected even though they are working under immense pressure. The impact of COVID-19 on patient services has been relatively small. The concerted actions taken by the whole community in Hong Kong has been quite effective in containing the disease but at a heavy price of a severely damaged socio-economic environment.