hong kong experts split on best way to arrest elderly covid 19 death toll - Hong Kong experts split on best way to arrest elderly Covid-19 death toll

HONG KONG – With the Covid-19 outbreak spreading to many of the city’s elderly care homes, experts are divided over how to quell the rising death toll among seniors.

The worsening outbreak has been compounded by a sluggish vaccination rate among seniors, as well as a lack of vaccines and isolation facilities – a combination of factors that could be lethal for these elderly residents, some experts said.

Dr David Owens, a family medicine practitioner, told The Straits Times that vaccinating more vulnerable people and care home residents “remains a priority even at this late stage”.

The government’s move to ban unvaccinated people from eateries, shopping malls and supermarkets from Feb 24 prompted more seniors to volunteer for the jabs, but their numbers were dismal.

About 66 per cent of those aged 70 and above have had at least one jab, while 49 per cent of those aged 80 and above have had the first dose.

The vaccination rate is far worse at a mere 20 per cent in elderly care homes, which have an estimated 70,000 residents.

“Although by nature I am not a fan of mandates, in this context, I think opt-out and time-limited mandates targeting the highest risk population are ethically justifiable in order to save lives. which may be lost in the greater population if our hospital system breaks down,” said Dr Owens.

Hong Kong has about 1.5 million residents aged 65 and above, according to government data.

On Wednesday (March 2), Dr Albert Au of the Centre for Health Protection said those aged 80 and above accounted for about two-thirds of the Covid-19 deaths, with the fatality rate among the elderly “much higher” than the younger population.

“The government has liaised with the social welfare department to launch programmes to increase the vaccination coverage among the residents, as well as the staff,” he said.

The government is also providing on-site vaccinations to care home residents, and the Department of Health has opened up the elderly health centres to provide the free jabs, said Dr Au.

So far, about 1,000 private doctors have been roped in to help vaccinate the elderly in the community via private clinics.