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Inter-departmental task force enhances support for residential care homes to build barriers against epidemic rebound
     A spokesman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) announced today (June 17) that the Inter-departmental Task Force to Enhance Residential Care Homes (RCHs)' Capabilities in Epidemic Fight chaired by the Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare has taken forward a number of improvement measures to build barriers to protect RCHs, improve support to RCHs, and enhance co-ordination within the Government, in order to respond to the latest epidemic situation and prepare for a possible sixth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Building barriers to protect RCHs

     Subsequent to the Programme on Enhancing Infection Control and Ventilation of RCHs launched by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) in 2020, the Task Force has resolved that the SWD, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) and the Buildings Department should conduct ventilation inspections to some 700 private/self-financing RCHs and contract homes operated by private organisations from mid-April to mid-June this year to check whether the ventilation equipment fulfils relevant requirements and to put forward improvement recommendations. The SWD and the Department of Health (DH) have also rolled out another round of four additional on-site assessment visits by nurses to RCHs in June 2022 over a 12-month period to consolidate RCHs' compliance with COVID-19-related infection control measures, and provide infection control advice and training to RCH staff.

     The SWD has provided a sufficient number of rapid antigen test (RAT) kits to RCHs for all residents to conduct RATs daily, while RCH staff are required to conduct an RAT before going to work every day, so as to build barriers and strengthen protection. The spokesman said, "Since early April, all RCHs have been required to submit information on their latest situation daily, even if there is zero new confirmed cases on that day. The Government would like to express gratitude to the RCH sector for their understanding and co-operation in avoiding an anti-epidemic loophole that may be caused by any omission of reporting which may result in severe consequences."

     In addition, with the outreach vaccination arrangement for RCHs, all RCHs have matched with medical institutions/organisations or visiting medical officers for administering timely vaccination to residents suitable for COVID-19 vaccination. At present, 90 per cent and 77 per cent of RCH residents have received the first and second doses of vaccine respectively. The SWD will continue to collaborate with the DH to provide the necessary assistance to RCHs and appeal to RCHs and related medical teams for support and co-operation in further enhancing the vaccination rate of residents, hence strengthening the anti-epidemic barriers.

Improving support to RCHs and co-ordination within Government

     The Task Force has examined in detail the mechanism for transferring residents who have tested positive to holding centres (HCs). It also clarified the respective responsibilities of the DH, the Hospital Authority (HA), the SWD and RCHs, enabling the timely transmission of RCH residents with mild symptoms and in stable condition with care needs to HCs for isolation, and enabling HCs to provide effective services in the multi-tiered triage strategy.

     Furthermore, the SWD, in collaboration with relevant bureaux/departments, launched on June 13 a one-stop e-platform, such that RCHs can submit via a single e-platform various returns on prevention and control of COVID-19 that were previously submitted to the SWD and the DH separately. This aims to lessen the workload of RCHs, facilitate information sharing among departments concerned and enhance the efficiency of epidemic surveillance. For RCHs, the e-platform not only allows convenient submission of information, but also provides them with a readily available overview of the latest progress in respect of vaccination of residents as well as the overall situation of positive cases.

     The SWD, in collaboration with the DH, the HA and the Fire Services Department, has set up a dedicated RCH hotline, which will be activated anytime in light of the changing epidemic situation. The hotline will provide one-stop handling of RCHs' requests for epidemic-related assistance and ensure that RCHs will receive timely support.

     Considering the notable advantages of Chinese medicine for rehabilitation, the SWD is encouraging residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) to enroll in the HA's special programme COVID-19 - Chinese Medicine Services for Residential Care Homes for the Elderly, under which the HA's Chinese medicine practitioner teams provide Chinese medicine telemedicine or outreach service to RCHEs.

     The HA's Community Geriatric Assessment Team continues to provide support to RCHEs. For residential care homes for persons with disabilities (RCHDs), the HA has established in each of its clusters a liaison mechanism to enhance communication with and timely support for RCHDs with confirmed cases. In addition, the DH and the HA will prepare a standing contingency plan, with a view to liaising with RCHs and enabling efficient triage of residents to treatment/isolation/quarantine facilities in the event of a sixth wave. The SWD has also liaised with relevant non-governmental organisations to encourage their visiting medical practitioners to join the eHealth System and place orders of antiviral drugs for RCH residents via the DH.

Responding to recent epidemic situation and preparing for a sixth wave

     As the fifth wave of the epidemic has subsided from the peak, the SWD's HCs/quarantine centres (QCs) set up with the assistance of the HA and the DH, except for the HCs/QCs at AsiaWorld-Expo (AWE) remaining in service, had ceased operation. In view of the recent increasing trend of confirmed cases in the community and to prepare for a possible sixth wave in a bid to prevent the undesirable situation of on-site isolation, the Task Force has directed the SWD to formulate a plan in collaboration with relevant departments/parties for re-activating nine sports centres of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and part of the Hung Shui Kiu Community Isolation Facility as HCs within a short time when needed. These together with the operating HCs/QCs at AWE would avail about 2 000 beds. The Task Force will continue to identify suitable venues for use as QCs to cater for the needs of RCH residents.

     For treatment facilities, the HA has enhanced co-ordination among its clusters to ensure patients having contracted COVID-19 will receive timely treatment at hospitals. The North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre will make available 400 beds within 48 hours.

     To listen to the views of the RCH sector, the Task Force invited the Hong Kong Council of Social Service to conduct a questionnaire survey on enhancing RCHs' capabilities in the epidemic fight in May 2022. Making reference to the survey results, the Task Force has discussed issues of concern to the RCH sector and formulated relevant measures. The SWD has also briefed the RCH sector on the measures, strengthened mutual communication and appealed for the sector's support and co-operation.

     The spokesman said that the Government attaches importance to and will continue to maintain communication with the RCH sector. The Government also expressed sincere gratitude to the sector for their efforts and contribution during the epidemic, and will continue to provide support to RCHs in enhancing their anti-epidemic capabilities and preparedness for handling the epidemic.

     The Government set up the Task Force in March this year, with representatives from the LWB, the Food and Health Bureau, the Development Bureau, the SWD, the DH, the EMSD and the HA, aiming to enhance the overall anti-epidemic capabilities of RCHEs and RCHDs in preparation for a possible sixth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ends/Friday, June 17, 2022
Issued at HKT 18:27
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