LCQ9: Post Coronavirus Disease 2019 condition

     Following is a question by the Hon Yung Hoi-yan and a written reply by the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     It has been reported that quite a number of patients infected with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) have, after recovery, developed symptoms of post COVID-19 condition (commonly known as "long COVID"). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the symptoms of long COVID, including the rate of various long COVID symptoms developed by recovered COVID-19 patients of different age groups;
(2) whether it will conduct studies on the long-term effects of long COVID on children (including those on learning and daily lives) as well as whether schools have provided appropriate support in this regard, and take corresponding countermeasures in the light of the study findings; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it has plans, by making reference to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, to (i) raise public awareness on long COVID, and (ii) provide healthcare personnel with appropriate guidelines to enable them to tailor rehabilitation programmes according to the conditions of individual long COVID patients; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), some COVID-19 patients may experience mid- and long-term effects from the virus, collectively known as "Post COVID-19 condition", or "Long COVID". The Government strives to provide suitable care and support services for patients recovered from COVID-19, and also supports a number of studies on "Long COVID" in order to support the formulation of better policies for assisting recovered patients to receive appropriate care.
     In consultation with the Education Bureau (EDB) and Hospital Authority (HA), my consolidated reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Yung Hoi-yan is as follows:
     Since April 2020, the Health Bureau and the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) have approved a total of $556 million to support 70 COVID-19 related research studies from bench to bedside and at the community level through application of new technologies. These studies address important research areas including transmissibility and infectivity of the virus, effective detection and surveillance, prevention strategies of the disease and development of treatments and therapies.
     To better understand "Long COVID", support clinical research and promote development of diagnosis and treatment protocols, a total of seven studies which cover a wide range of topics have been supported, from understanding the prevalence of clinical manifestations of "Long COVID", investigating the prognostic values of various biomarkers, to the effects on physical functions, e.g. lung and cardiopulmonary, as well as neuropsychiatric sequelae. In addition, different interventions targeting prevention, treatment and rehabilitation have also been tested, which involve the use of oral microbiome formula, physical and novel digital-based programmes, cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based psychological intervention, in order to improve the quality of life of COVID-19 recovered patients.
     Besides, the HA has rolled out the collation and analysis of medical related data of "Long COVID", taking reference from the definition of "Long COVID" by the WHO. The relevant work is still in progress and related data is not yet available at this stage. The HA will keep in view the related data and service need alongside full support provided to universities and research institutions for conducting studies related to "Long COVID".
     In parallel with research work, the HA has been providing appropriate treatment and rehabilitation support to COVID-19 patients through various channels. In general, doctors will assess the clinical conditions of COVID-19 inpatients and arrange medical follow-up for recovered patients after discharge. Short- or long-term rehabilitation service will also be provided if necessary. For COVID-19 patients attending HA outpatient clinics (including General Outpatient Clinics), clinical teams will identify for any complications or persistent symptoms of "Long COVID" based on patients' signs and symptoms, provide necessary treatment and health recommendations, and refer them to other rehabilitation services from different specialties, allied health and psychological support services, according to clinical needs.
     For children, the HA's Coordinating Committee in Paediatrics has been discussing the long-term impact of "Long COVID" on children. Paediatricians will continue to provide appropriate treatment and medical follow-up according to the clinical conditions of children who have recovered from COVID-19. The HA's paediatric units will also adopt the hub-and-spoke model to refer the recovered children with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome to the Hong Kong Children's Hospital for follow-up if necessary.
     The HA has also launched the "Special Chinese Medicine Outpatient Programme for COVID-19 infected persons" in April 2020 to provide free Chinese Medicine general consultations to those eligible Hong Kong residents who acquired the virus locally, have been discharged from public hospitals/ completed isolation but still have post COVID-19 symptoms for rehabilitation at Chinese Medicine Clinics cum Training and Research Centres in 18 districts. There is no age limit for this service. Chinese Medicine Practitioners will provide general consultations (each consultation includes not more than five doses of Chinese medicines and capped at maximum 10 consultations as clinically required) according to clinical diagnosis and medical needs.
     Furthermore, the Department of Health (DH) uses various channels to raise public awareness about "Long COVID" and encourages COVID-19 vaccination as a preventive measure. Apart from publicity through web pages, social media, and announcements in the Public Interest, the DH has also invited medical experts for interviews and to speak at seminars, as well as produced short video clips, to explain to the general public about the health impact of "Long COVID" and the preventive measures.
     As regards the support to schools, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the EDB has all along been closely monitoring the development of the epidemic situation, listening to the advice of health experts and maintaining communication with the school sector to implement various anti-epidemic measures in schools as well as review and adjust the related measures in a timely manner to safeguard the health of students. Through the "Health Protection Measures for Schools" issued by the EDB and the "Health Advice to Schools for the Prevention of COVID-19" issued by the Centre for Health Protection, etc., the EDB has required schools to strictly put in place various anti-epidemic measures including checking of body temperature every day before returning to schools, wearing well-fitted surgical masks all the time, maintaining appropriate social distances, avoiding crowd gathering, completing a Rapid Antigen Test by every teacher/school staff and student each day before returning to school, and paying attention to personal and environmental hygiene. We also only allow schools that meet the vaccination rate requirements to arrange face-to-face classes and engage students in extracurricular activities.
     The EDB has all along been strongly appealing to schools and assisting their teachers/school staff, students and parents to actively get vaccinated against COVID-19, and has organised a number of "School Vaccination Days" in various districts in Hong Kong to actively promote early vaccination for teachers/school staff, students and their families. In order to enhance awareness of parents and school personnel on topics related to vaccination (including "Long COVID"), the EDB has collaborated with the DH, Radio Television Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Paediatric Society to film short video clips and host various virtual lectures, for example, "Complications of COVID-19 Infection", with a view to explaining the related information from professional perspectives.

Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:30