Up to 400 taxis will be recruited for dedicated patient transport starting Friday after the government said a “tsunami” of cases had overwhelmed hospital and ambulances.
Under the current case backlog, estimated in the thousands, patients with symptoms but not considered high-risk would face long queues to enter hospitals and, being required to isolate at home while waiting, could not attend local clinics or doctors’ offices.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam this morning said a dedicated taxi scheme would help people who were non-priority hospital cases visit designated clinics if they developed symptoms.
Lam said the arrangement could “relieve the worries of the public or other transport operators”.
Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming confirmed to Transit Jam that around 200-400 taxis, or 1-2% of the entire taxi fleet, will be drafted and should start work by Friday, although he says exact details are yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile the head of the Taxi Dealers and Owners Association Ng Kwan-shing said drivers would wear double masks, with taxis disinfected after every trip and exclusively used for patient transport.
“If the authorities can arrange the fleet to provide sufficient safety protection against the epidemic, and the remuneration is reasonable, I believe that many drivers will be willing to participate,” he told RTHK Chinese News.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends strict protocols for transferring Covid patients, including “coordinated handover of the patient to the triage area, with distanced segregation”, detailed transfer logs, open windows in the vehicle, constant monitoring of drivers and use of designated routes. “Do not use spray bottles for [vehicle] cleaning,” it warns. “Use a squeeze bottle to apply agents to disposable cloths or paper towels.”
WHO says such a scheme requires “clear delineation of roles and responsibilities as well as minimum standards”.
Dr Siddharth Sridhar, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at HKU, said providing the service could be a “manageable risk” for drivers, provided they were triple vaccinated, wore N95 masks or “KN95 and goggles” and used contactless payment.
But Sridhar says there is still a risk of drivers getting infected. “I wouldn’t recommend older drivers or those with chronic medical conditions doing this,” he says. “Ideally, drivers on such services should also be offered testing regularly.”