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10 September 2022

Lesson learned from the early success and recent failure of protecting nursing home residents from COVID-19

Terry Lum , The University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong

Cheng Shi, Gloria Wong
The University of Hong Kong

Abstract

Hong Kong did very well in protecting nursing home residents from the COVID19 during the first 18 months of the pandemic. From January 2020 to June 2021, there was no nursing home-related Covid-19 infection in Hong Kong. The success was mainly due to public health intervention and population behavioral change. Hong Kong's public health intervention was developed from the lessons learned during the SARS epidemic in 2003 that killed 299 people, including 57 residential care residents. The core elements of the public health intervention were contact tracing of infected persons, isolation of infected persons in hospitals for treatment, and quarantining their close contacts in quarantine centers. However, such a system rapidly collapsed when facing the rapidly spreading Omicron.

The first outbreak in nursing homes started in the early summer of 2021, but the government could contain it within just a few nursing homes, preventing a potential disaster. However, between January 2022 and April 2022, the number of nursing homes with the Covid-19 outbreak increased sharply from a low single-digit percentage of homes to almost 100%. Furthermore, many nursing homes recorded more than 90% of residents infected. The fast-spreading Omicorn overwhelmed the healthcare system within just a couple of weeks and paralyzed the emergy response system, including ambulance and emergency room services, leading to a catastrophic collapse.

The disastrous results were also due to the government's complacency because of earlier success, the slow policy response to the rapidly changing situation, and wrong policy priorities when facing the rapidly spreading Omicron. This paper will build on a report published in 2020 on the early success of Hong Kong in containing COVID-19 and extend the coverage to include the recent failure and system collapse. We will present findings from a qualitative study, including a review of newspaper reports and other publicly available materials and in-depth interviews with nursing home operators. We will also offer lessons from our early success and failure when facing Omincon.

Slides


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