Government cancels arrangement of issuing isolation orders
As observed from the fifth wave of the epidemic triggered by the Omicron variant since 2022, there were two peaks in early and end last year. Even though the Government has steadily adjusted the anti-epidemic measures since mid last year, including the gradual relaxation of social distancing measures and adjustment of testing and quarantine arrangements for inbound travellers, Hong Kong could still ride out the peak from the end of last year till now.
The number of cases tested positive in recent days has moderated gradually from the peak of about 30 000 cases on December 31 last year to only 3 793 cases on January 18 this year, while the proportion of death cases are remarkably lower compared to the peak in February and March last year. The public healthcare system has not been severely threatened. The following three factors could be concluded:
(1) The current overall second- and third-dose COVID-19 vaccination rates in Hong Kong have reached 93 per cent and 84 per cent respectively. With the immunity brought by a large amount of infected persons since the fifth wave of the epidemic, an effective vaccination rate equivalent to that of having received the third dose has reached around 95 per cent. The hybrid immunity barrier against COVID-19 in the overall community is very strong, and people who have completed vaccination have presented only mild symptoms after infection with Omicron variant.
(2) The public hospitals established effective contingency plans, together with the assistance of private hospitals and the prevalent use of telemedicine services and COVID-19 antiviral drugs, the general anti-epidemic capability of the healthcare system has strengthened.
(3) The anti-epidemic knowledge and experience of the general public accumulated considerably in the past three years, while the ability to prevent and handle infected cases of members of the public and residential care homes (RCHs) was enhanced.
To continue the gradual resumption to normalcy of society, the management and handling of the epidemic could be progressed to a new stage and mode by changing compulsory isolation regulations to self-decision by the public. The Government will cancel the compulsory isolation arrangement for infected persons, and advice on health measures would instead be issued to them. Apart from that, the Government will adjust the scope of target groups for free nucleic acid testing services at community testing centres/stations, including the termination of free testing provided for persons undergoing voluntary testing at appropriate times according to the situation, and to focus resources in protecting high-risk premises and groups in need of regular nucleic acid testing.
Nonetheless, as COVID-19 still brings risk and pressure to the community, especially among the young and old, as well as the healthcare system, and as there is still uncertainty in global epidemic situation, the Emergency Response Level for the COVID-19 epidemic will be maintained until further notice. The Government will also encourage members of the public who are in need of testing or are symptomatic to conduct rapid antigen tests (RATs) on their own or to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Arrangement of cancelling of isolation orders
Starting from January 30, the Health Officer will no longer issue isolation orders to infected persons according to Cap. 599A. All persons tested positive (including by nucleic acid and RATs) are not required to report and provide personal particulars via the online platforms of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH). The "Declaration System for Individuals Tested Positive for COVID-19 Using Rapid Antigen Test" (www.chp.gov.hk/ratp), the "Online self-reporting for COVID-19 patient" (www.chp.gov.hk/cdpi), as well as the relevant automatic telephone voice registration system (183 6119) will also cease operation on the same day.
Meanwhile, the Health Officer will cancel the active isolation orders issued by that time. In other words, those who are currently under isolation at designated premises including their places of residence or isolation facilities will no longer be required to continue their isolation starting from January 30. The Government will arrange for those staying in the isolation facilities to leave in an orderly manner and gazette the notice of relevant cancellation arrangements. In view of the aforementioned adjustments, the Government will also suspend the distribution of anti-epidemic kits to confirmed cases.
Health advice to infected persons
Members of the public who tested positive are advised to take the various advice on health measures for preventing respiratory diseases. They should: observe personal hygiene; reduce contacts with household members without wearing masks; open windows to ensure adequate ventilation of the unit; as well as clean and disinfect household environment every day.
For infected persons who belong to high-risk groups or develop obvious symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, vomiting and diarrhoea), they should seek medical attention as soon as possible to obtain timely treatment. Symptomatic persons should stay at home for rest and avoid going out, while asymptomatic persons can go out on their will or go to work. To protect the young, students who have tested positive should not attend schools until they have tested negative by RATs. Infected persons should wear well-fitting surgical masks, KF94, KN95 masks, or respirators (such as N95 masks) during the first five days after testing positive. They should avoid having contact with high-risk individuals or having meals with other people at the same table. They should not go to crowded places or attend mass gatherings to lower the risk of transmission. Infected persons should observe their own health condition at all times, and seek medical attention as soon as possible if symptoms develop or worsen. As the Government will no longer issue isolation orders, those who do not feel well and in need of sick leave certificates should seek medical attention from a registered medical practitioner or Chinese medicine practitioner. Doctors will issue sick leave certificates and prescribe with prudence COVID-19 oral drugs to patients according to their clinical situation. People tested positive without symptoms should avoid going to public hospitals or general out-patient clinics with a view to preserving valuable public healthcare service capacity for those in need.
Arrangement on community isolation facilities
Having considered that some infected persons may wish to stay at the community isolation facilities (CIF) to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the household if their living environment is crowded or their household members fall into high-risk groups, the CIFs will remain in operation for a short period of time for use by Hong Kong residents. Recently infected persons who are Hong Kong residents and need to stay at CIFs may contact the Fire Services Department (Whatsapp platform: 5233 2939; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; WeChat: fsd_cif) for transfer arrangement if needed and can stay at the CIF for up to seven days. If they choose to leave the CIF earlier, negative results by RATs are not required but they cannot return to the CIF once they have left. Separately, residents at residential care homes who are infected and have received less than three doses of vaccine can be arranged to stay at the holding centres managed by the Social Welfare Department where care services are available. Residents who develop serious symptoms, regardless of the number of vaccine doses they have received, will be assessed by healthcare professionals based on their symptoms and conditions and be sent to hospitals for treatment if needed. The above transitional arrangement of CIFs and holding centres will last until February 28.
Reporting criteria and monitoring of viruses
Starting from January 30, the Government will revise the reporting criteria of COVID-19 under which doctors only need to report to the CHP death cases and severe cases. The CHP will issue letters to all doctors to inform them of the arrangement. As regards the monitoring of the epidemic and disseminating related information, the CHP will upload onto the "COVID-19 Thematic Website" (www.coronavirus.gov.hk) every day the number of specimens that tested positive by nucleic acid tests as well as the number of death cases reported by doctors and hospitals in lieu of the current practice of issuing press releases. Acting upon the World Health Organization (WHO)'s advice, the CHP will continue to monitor the development of the COVID-19 mutant strains by monitoring the surveillance data of sewage samples collected by the Environmental Protection Department in various districts and conducting COVID-19 genetic testing for in-patients. Relevant data will be reported to the WHO regularly. Together with the general out-patient clinics and private medical practitioners under the sentinel surveillance system, the CHP will monitor the weekly number of patients seeking medical consultation after being infected with COVID-19. Such surveillance data will be shared with doctors under the sentinel surveillance system.
Ends/Thursday, January 19, 2023
Issued at HKT 20:20
Issued at HKT 20:20