Heightened vigilance against COVID-19 and influenza urged

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (April 18) urged members of the public to heighten their vigilance against COVID-19 due to its increased activity as indicated in local surveillance data. Persons who are symptomatic, even if having mild symptoms, should wear a surgical mask and seek medical advice promptly with a view to lowering the risk of spreading the virus to high-risk persons. Strict personal, hand and environmental hygiene should also be observed at all times. The CHP stressed that vaccination can effectively prevent infection and serious cases.

     A spokesman for the CHP pointed out that COVID-19 has now been managed as an upper respiratory tract illness and the Government has been closely monitoring the local situation and assessing the risk. The CHP's surveillance data in April this year revealed that local COVID-19 activity has increased. In the week from April 2 to 8, the number of newly recorded positive laboratory detections, the positive detection rate of specimens collected at community testing centres and community testing stations, sewage surveillance, as well as surveillance among sentinel general out-patient clinics and sentinel private medical practitioner clinics, all showed an increasing trend when compared to the preceding week.

     Members of the public, particularly children, the elderly and chronic disease patients, are strongly urged to receive vaccination as early as possible for effective protection against COVID-19. Receiving COVID-19 vaccination can effectively reduce the risk of serious illness and death from infection. The Government earlier announced that members of the public belonging to any of the priority groups (i.e. older adults aged 50 or above including those living in residential care homes, persons aged 18 to 49 years with underlying comorbidities, persons aged 6 months or above and with immunocompromising conditions, pregnant women and healthcare workers) can receive an additional vaccine booster six months after their last dose or COVID-19 infection (whichever is later) free of charge in 2023, regardless of the number of vaccine doses they received in the past. They can receive specified free doses by making reservation via the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme 2023 website.

     Members of the public aged 6 months or above can receive the first three doses for free. Starting from April 20, those who do not belong to the aforementioned priority groups can receive the booster doses in the private market at their own expense. The Government calls on all members of the public who have not received the first three doses of vaccine to get vaccinated as early as possible for self-protection.

     Meanwhile, the CHP has been closely monitoring the local influenza situation. It was earlier announced that the surveillance data as at April 1 indicated that Hong Kong has entered the influenza peak season. The overall local seasonal influenza activity has further increased in the week from April 2 to 8. Among the respiratory specimens received by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch and the Hospital Authority (HA), the weekly percentage of detections tested positive for seasonal influenza viruses has increased from below 1 per cent in the first week of March to 13.57 per cent in the week ending April 8. The overall admission rate with a principal diagnosis of influenza, particularly among persons aged under 12 years and those aged 50 years or above, has also continued its rising trend.

     As influenza viruses and the SARS-CoV-2 virus may both spread at the same time, getting an influenza vaccination is important to protect the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The Government has rolled out in phases various seasonal influenza vaccination (SIV) programmes since September last year to provide eligible members of the public with free or subsidised SIV. Since SIV is one of the effective means to prevent seasonal influenza and its complications, as well as reduce influenza-related hospitalisation and death, all persons aged 6 months or above, except those with known contraindications, are recommended to receive SIV for personal protection. As it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies, members of the public, particularly persons at higher risk of getting influenza and its complications, should receive SIV early. COVID-19 vaccines can be co-administered with seasonal influenza vaccine at the same time. Currently, various vaccination venues provide co-administration of COVID-19 vaccine and SIV to eligible persons (including the elderly and children). The venues include the designated facilities under the HA and the DH, and Private Clinic COVID-19 Vaccination Stations. Details are available at www.chp.gov.hk/en/features/106096.html. Eligible persons can make reservation for receiving both COVID-19 vaccination and SIV at the designated website.

     "Besides receiving vaccination as early as possible for personal protection, wearing a surgical mask can also prevent transmission of respiratory viruses. It is thus still essential for persons with respiratory symptoms, even if the symptoms are mild, to wear a surgical mask. Symptomatic patients should refrain from work or attending classes at school, avoid going to crowded places and seek medical advice promptly with a view to lowering the risk of spreading the virus to high-risk persons (e.g. persons with underlying medical conditions or persons who are immunocompromised). It is important to wear a mask properly, including performing hand hygiene before wearing and after removing a mask," the spokesman stressed.

     Moreover, the CHP again reminded members of the public to take the following measures to prevent respiratory tract infections:
  • Avoid touching one's eyes, mouth and nose;
  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water properly whenever possibly contaminated;
  • When hands are not visibly soiled, clean them with 70 to 80 per cent alcohol-based handrub;
  • Cover the nose and mouth with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing. Dispose of soiled tissue paper properly into a lidded rubbish bin and wash hands thoroughly afterwards;
  • Maintain good indoor ventilation; and
  • Build up good body immunity by having a balanced diet, exercise regularly, take adequate rest, do not smoke and avoid overstress.

     For the latest information, please visit the COVID-19 Thematic Website, the CHP's influenza page and weekly COVID-19 & Flu Express. As for vaccination, the public may visit the CHP's Vaccination Schemes page.

Ends/Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Issued at HKT 18:20