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  • Student flu fear could mean early holiday
    Date:2018-02-07 

    A decision will be made today whether primary schools and kindergartens should begin the Lunar New Year holidays early to prevent further flu outbreaks.

    This comes after four outbreaks at primary schools and one in a kindergarten were reported in the past two days, affecting 107 students.

    Twenty-three tested positive for the influenza B virus, the main type this year.

    Since the winter flu season began there have been 11 pediatric flu cases with two deaths.

    Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday met two experts - the University of Hong Kong's Yuen Kwok-yung and Chinese University's David Hui Shu-cheong - to take advice on suspending classes.

    "I need a more scientific basis and experts' opinions before I make a decision," she said.

    Hui said the decision will be announced by the Centre for Health Protection at 3.30pm today.

    The chairman of the Hong Kong Early Childhood Educators Association, Yan Ho-on, said a suspension is the most direct way to reduce the risks of more outbreaks.

    Some kindergartens want holidays to start earlier, he said, but they are awaiting official word rather than taking on the great responsibility of making a decision on their own.

    On that, HKU microbiologist Ho Pak-leung expressed concern over child minding as many working parents could face difficulties in caring for their kids if schools are closed earlier than planned. But it could become a matter of urgency if there are more pediatric flu deaths.

    Speaking on a radio program, Ho also proposed the creation of a team to provide free flu jabs to all pupils in primary schools and kindergartens given the low vaccination rate - about 15 percent - among children.

    Such a move, Ho said, would cost about HK$50 million, which would include hiring 150 people to vaccinate roughly 520,000 children in 1,500 schools in the first two months of each school year.

    "It is far more cost-effective as the manpower needed for this must be less than the medical staff needed in public hospitals when there's an outbreak," Ho said, adding that he submitted his views to Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po ahead of the budget.

    Henry Yeung Chiu-fat, chairman of the Hong Kong Doctors Union, said there has been a shortage of flu vaccines in private clinics and the government has done little to alleviate the situation.

    Civic Party lawmaker and doctor Kwok Ka-ki said some doctors might get only 20 shots from the government when they have more than 100 people in a waiting line.

    He urged officials to expand its subsidized vaccination scheme as the Hospital Authority still has some 60,000 jabs in stock.

    As of Monday, 224 severe influenza cases had been reported since the beginning of the year, with 121 resulting in deaths.

    According to the authority, 5,974 people sought treatment at emergency rooms on Monday with 1,082 admitted to wards. The overall occupancy rate that day was 112 percent, with 13 of 15 hospitals hitting over their capacity.



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