HONG KONG, April 17 (Xinhua) -- For more than two years, Zhang Zhongde has been a man with a mission: to be there fighting off COVID-19 whenever called upon.

After spending 72 days supporting central China's Wuhan in its epidemic battle at the beginning of 2020, the vice president of Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine has reinforced 10 of China's campaigns against COVID-19.

Battle-hardened by 266 days acting as a medical expert in 10 different cities across China, 58-year-old "Uncle De" rushed to Hong Kong in March to rein in the region's worst virus flare-up, just two months fresh out from triumphing over the previous resurgence.

His new battlefield is at AsiaWorld-Expo (AWE), one of the two major convention and exhibition facilities in Hong Kong. It has now been turned into a field hospital for COVID-19 patients, including many elderly suffering from underlying diseases.

He led a 300-person medical team to the global financial hub that is one river away from Guangdong Province. It is the largest team he has led to support the local in fighting the epidemic, which also drew multiple other mainland aid teams for testing, treatment, and facility construction.

Although he was fully prepared, he was still astonished by the situation at first. The fifth wave of COVID-19 started at the beginning of this year and saw cases skyrocket after the Lunar New Year, with more than 50,000 confirmed cases reported daily during the peak period, and many patients, mostly the elderly, died.

The top priority in Hong Kong's fight against the epidemic is to reduce deaths, serious cases, and infections. However, with the explosive increase of confirmed cases, there was a serious staff shortage in Hong Kong public hospitals. Treatment of critically ill patients urgently needed help.

"We must help them," said Zhang, who had a brush with death during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and knows all too well the suffering of patients, and the helplessness, anxiety, and fear in the wards.

He was diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) when fighting the disease at the frontline. Haunted by a high fever for days and nights, his chest seemed to be weighed down by a stone, his breathing became so difficult, and his heartbeat was so unusually strong that friends and relatives once thought Zhang could not make it. Fortunately, he recovered after about 40 days of treatment.

"When an outbreak overwhelms a local health care system, we are duty-bound to do the right thing and offer our support," Zhang said. "The fight against the COVID-19 epidemic is like putting out a fire. When local firefighters are not enough, forces from other places shall be there."

Zhang's team started by familiarizing themselves with the environment and workflow at the AWE. The team members knew the ropes in three days and passed all the tests to be ready to work. Then, they learned about the patients' condition and improved the treatment plan.

Zhang's experience as a recovered SARS patient, a guru in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and frontline medic wrestling with COVID-19 in the past two years has made a big difference. The fact that TCM has developed a good theoretical system in dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases gave him more powerful weapons to deal with his new mission in Hong Kong.

All patients admitted to the AWE hospital will be evaluated by a team of Chinese and Western physicians. If appropriate, the patient can receive TCM treatment on a voluntary basis. Now, the Chinese and Western medicine teams work together on patient rounds, treatment and consultations.

"The current plan is working very well. It is the result of cooperation between Hong Kong and mainland physicians," he said.

Zhang noted more and more people in Hong Kong were embracing the approach of adopting TCM in treating COVID-19, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has also pledged to relax restrictions on current systems and policies to provide more opportunities for TCM development in Hong Kong.

With the hard work of all parties, the fifth wave of the epidemic in Hong Kong has recently continued its downward trajectory, with the number of confirmed cases, severe cases, and deaths declining each day.

On Sunday, Hong Kong registered 446 new COVID-19 cases by nucleic acid tests, and 301 additional cases through self-reported rapid antigen tests, official data showed.

"Under De" is optimistic: "we will continue to be united and fight the epidemic toward a successful outcome." Enditem

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