Residential care homes for the elderly have stopped visiting for more than a year due to Covid 19 pandemic. The Hong Kong government recently allow restricted visiting arrangement for those have taken two jabs of vaccination for more than 14 days. However, Ms. Chau, chairman of the Cedar Seeds Foundation, said although she is happy the elderly and their families can finally meet, the instruction is rather impractical. It has a opposite effect, the public is not encouraged to take injections and increase workload of Care home to handle.

Ms. Chau, chairman of the Cedar Seeds Foundation, who is also an operator of private residential care homes, explained that government has given guidelines on visiting arrangement:

Those who has taken two-dose of COVID-19 vaccination for 14 days are allowed to visit on prescheduled booking. They are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result obtained within 72 hours before the scheduled visit OR provide a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test result with 24 hours before the visit. The rapid antigen testers are designed by the government and need to be purchased and test at home on their own. They are required to bring along a photo of the person being tested with the negative result and the date and time of the test shown in it, together with the product insert and packing of the rapid antigen test kit used for the staff to check and record.

Visitors who have not been vaccinated or only received their first dose or completed two-dose vaccination for less than 14 days before the visit are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result obtained within 72 hours before the visit;

Those need to pay urgent visit to institutions for compassionate reasons must provide a negative COVID-19 test result within two days after the visit.

Some family members believe the visiting policy is unfair and discouraging to those who has taken two doses of vaccination.

“If you don’t have or not completed two vaccine injection, you are allowed to book to visit as long as you have negative COVID 19test within 72-hour of visiting, that is, you can visit an elderly home three days in a row; but after an injection, you have a choice to present a 72-hour negative COVID 19 test result or with 24-hour antigen rapid test result, together with the test kit packaging and picture of test result and the visitor’s picture for confirmation of identity. The procedure is very confusing and more troublesome compare with a 72-hour COVID 19 test result”.  At present, the community testing centre is charging 240 dollars for COVID 19testing, while the antigen rapid test kit costs about 120 to 150 dollars. Ms. Chau said, “Although the rapid antigen test and COVID 19test cost lesser, the amount is counted by each visit, in respect of the visiting arrangement, the policy is not encouraging visitor to get vaccinated.”

Ms. Chau emphasized, in order to protect the safety of the elderly and employees, the institution, of course, would encourage family members to be vaccinated, but the relaxation of the visitation policy seems to be unclear and unreasonable. She said some family members were vaccinated in early stage, they are waiting for the relaxation of the visitation policy, hoping to be able to visit the loved ones in nursing homes as soon as possible, but the policy has disappointed them. “There are family members who reflect that the policy is rather silly! It is unfair to the family members who have been vaccinated!”

Ms. Chau understands that the original intention of the government to relax the visitation policy is welcomed by the industry, but the policy might not get the expected result when comes to implemetation. She questions if the government has discussed with the industry operators before executing the policy, the lack of communication creates hurdles and confusion when comes to actual operation. When the family complaint about the arrangement, the home operators are not able to explain but to take the blames. Most of the visitors would ask for compassionate arrangement, “We would not like to abuse the use of compassionate arrangement, furthermore, the arrangement for sure will explore the institute to higher risk in contacting the virus. Therefore, most of the institute would not ask about vaccination but use 72-hour COVID 19testing result for all visitors.

Suggest a unified testing system

Ms. Chau suggested that the government can unify the testing system, regardless of whether they have received vaccination or not, all visitors must undergo a rapid antigen test; if they have not been injected, they must pay for the rapid test kit and related protective equipment, such as protective gown, face shield etc; For those who have been vaccinated, the government can subsidize the expenditure to encourage the public to get vaccinated. “If the situation subsided, more than one visitor may be considered at a time to speed up the queuing time for visits.”

The staff of the aged care institutes will not be given $200 subsidies after the vaccination since they are exempted from compulsory COVID 19 testing. Chau believe the policy is putting the cart before the horse.

In addition, since December last year, the government has implemented an ex-gratia allowance of 200 dollar per month for employees in residential care homes to take regular COVID-19 tests. However, the policy has been updated recently. In early May, the government announced that employees of nursing homes who had completed two doses of COVID-19 vaccination would be exempted from regular mandatory COVID 19 testing. According to the authorities, employees who are exempted from compulsory testing can continue to be tested free of charge if they choose to do voluntary testing, but the special allowance of $200 per month will not be paid.

Ms. Chau criticized the government’s policies for putting the cart before the horse. “Although the 200 dollars allowance is not a lot of money, it is an incentive of encouragement for the staff of the institutions. To the most protection of the elderlies, the responsible staff are willing to get regular COVID test, but their good intention is put off by the unfair measurement.” She revealed that couple of staff who have completed the first injection are considering if they still want to get the second injection.

Ms. Chau believes that society and the industry have spent a lot of time and effort to explain the benefits of vaccination to their staff and family members. It is not easy to get most of the staff are willing to be vaccinated, however it is a pity that some unfair measurement being considered as unfair have blew off their previous efforts. “Always getting vaccinated and regularly tested by employees is the greatest guarantee for the elderly in residential care homes.” She suggested that the government can think from the perspective of front-line employees, formulate a fairer and more encouraging plan for vaccination, and encourage employees to work for regular testing. Only when the two tracks are in parallel can the safety and health of the elderly in the institutions be truly guaranteed.

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