Pregnancy is already stressful enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic brings a new set of challenges to the table. A lack of information and circulating fake news can make your stress worse. In partnership with OT&P, we bring you a practical guide on what to expect when giving birth in Hong Kong during COVID-19.
Partners (not) allowed in the delivery rooms
As the COVID-19 pandemic started in Hong Kong in January 2020, the Hospital Authority implemented strict measures to curb the spread of the virus. One of these measures involved barring fathers-to-be/partners from the delivery room. This measure was not publicly announced and unfortunately some couples only found out after being admitted to the maternity ward.
The Hospital Authority faced a lot of criticism regarding this pandemic measure and only recently publicly announced that as of 12 January 2021, partners are allowed back into the delivery room provided that they can present a negative COVID-19 test. Note that the test has to be taken within the past 3 days (counting the day when the specimen was taken as day 1).
Private hospitals generally allow partners in the delivery room
Unlike public hospitals, which fall under the Hospital Authority’s regulations, private hospitals did not prevent partners from accompanying expecting mothers in the delivery room without a medical indication.
Important! Before hospital admission, partners need to be aware of their own health, since COVID-19 rules and measures will still apply to them. Factors that can prohibit you from accompanying your partner in the delivery room include:
- A fever/raised body temperature (≥ 38℃)
- Having been confirmed with a COVID-19 infection in the past 28 days, or any close contact
- Your travel history within the past 21 days
- Falling under the compulsory quarantine within 21 days (14 days for those coming from Mainland, Macao and Taiwan), or any close contact
- Any COVID-19 symptoms, e.g. nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell
- A recent visit to specified premises listed in a compulsory testing notice under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J)
Since these factors may change from time to time, it is best to contact the private hospital you have chosen, to inquire about their latest policies.
Preparing yourself and your partner for delivery in a public hospital
Prior to admission, mothers need to take a test for COVID-19, which typically take 4-6 hours depending on the time of day. Partners who wish to be in the delivery room in a public hospital will need to get tested regularly (every 3 days) when the pregnancy nears/has reached full term. However, partners are not allowed to be with the mother until she is in active labor and is tested negative for COVID-19. The Hospital Authority did not specify or exclude which COVID-19 test would or would not qualify. However, a standard COVID-19 nucleic acid test can be done at one of Hong Kong’s Community Testing Centres and is generally accepted.
Preparing yourself and your partner for delivery in a private hospital
Currently, private hospitals require the mother-to-be and all other inpatients (and some day-patients) to provide a negative COVID-19 test as part of admissions. In most private hospitals this can be done on their premises. Some private hospitals have waived the testing fee whereas others will charge between HK$ 1,000 to HK$ 2,000. Tests conducted at Community Testing Centres are generally accepted and are priced at HK$ 240. It is important to note that booking in advance is often required for getting a COVID-19 test at private hospitals and some hospitals have quotas.
Partners wishing to accompany their partner during childbirth in a private hospital may need to be tested for COVID-19 depending on the hospital policy. It is important to note, however, that private hospital policies may change rapidly, depending on new infection numbers in Hong Kong. It is therefore best to confirm with your hospital the exact regulation and which COVID-19 tests are officially accepted.
Visiting hours suspended in public hospitals
For baby units in public hospitals, visiting rules vary across units. Visiting hours in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special care baby unit (SCBU) are limited for parents with restrictions on the days of visit and number of visitors. Please check with your hospital for specific regulations.
As long as the Emergency Response Level remains active, all public hospitals have suspended their visiting hours. Grandpa, grandma, aunties and uncles will have to wait until your baby is back home before they can meet their newest family member.
Limited number of visitors in private hospitals
As the pandemic has progressed each hospital has slowly added more and more measures regarding visitors and visiting hours. These policies differ widely among Hong Kong’s private hospitals and it is highly recommended that you contact your private hospital to check which arrangements are applicable to you, your partner and/or relatives.
Some of the visitor restrictions implemented by private hospitals to reduce the risk of infection include, but are not limited to:
- Maximum number of visits per day/stay
- Maximum number of visitors
- Reduced visiting hours
- Visitors requiring negative COVID-19 test certificates
- Pre-registration of visitors upon admissions
Private hospitals also often require visitors to register their contact details during admission to facilitate contact tracing in the event an infection is detected in the hospital.
Are pregnant women at a higher risk for COVID-19?
Pregnant women undergo many bodily changes, including changes in their immune system. With this in mind, it is known that pregnant women are not immune to COVID-19 and can develop severe COVID-19. Hong Kong’s Family Health services recommend that pregnant women be vigilant in maintaining social distance, practicing proper personal hygiene and wearing face masks throughout pregnancy.
According to the WHO there seems to be a higher risk if they are older, overweight and/or have pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It also seems that pregnant women who develop severe COVID-19 are more likely to require care in the intensive care units compared to non-pregnant women of reproductive age. Therefore, it is important to get tested when you suspect being infected and report any possible symptoms of infection (including fever, cough or difficulty in breathing) to your healthcare provider.
What if I am pregnant and test positive?
In case you test positive, the Department of Health will contact you to arrange admission to a public hospital for isolation and treatment. In the meantime, you are requested to stay at home, stay indoors, wear a surgical mask and avoid any close contact with your household members as well as sharing any cutlery, utensils or personal items.
The Department of Health simultaneously launches a contact tracing investigation and arranges quarantine for your asymptomatic close contacts. It remains unclear whether the treatment at the public hospital for pregnant women will be the same as compared to non-pregnant individuals. The medical staff will likely assess this case by case and recommend the best treatment.
At the quarantine centre, household members will share the same unit, depending on factors such as unit availability, unit size and family composition. Meals and basic daily personal necessities (e.g. toilet paper) will be provided by quarantine centres and you can bring your own personal necessities such as clothes and (daily) medication.
While waiting for admission to hospital, please stay at home, avoid going out and wear a surgical mask. Do not have meals together with your family or share cutlery and utensils. Do not share your personal items such as towels with others.
Giving birth when confirmed with COVID-19
In July 2020, Hong Kong saw a case of a mother who gave birth after testing positive for COVID-19, via emergency caesarean section. The baby was isolated separately from the mother after birth and tested.
Studies so far have tested samples of fluid around the baby as well as breast milk and no active virus has been detected in these samples. Based on this information, the WHO has indicated that a confirmed COVID-19 infection is not a medical indication for a caesarean section and that women can still give birth naturally should they wish to. However, it is advised that the mother wears a face mask to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to the baby when interacting with her newborn.
This article is brought to you in partnership with OT&P Healthcare. It is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.