Hong Kong health authorities are beefing up health checks at border checkpoints as authorities in central China investigate an outbreak of a Sars-like disease in Wuhan that has sickened 27 – with seven in a critical condition.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan convened a meeting with the Hospital Authority, the Health Department, and infectious diseases expert Yuen Kwok-yung on Tuesday night, before announcing that people who have acute respiratory symptoms and fever, and have travelled to Wuhan over the past fortnight, may be placed in isolation in hospital.
Chan said Hospital Authority staff have been told to be on alert for such cases, and private doctors will be urged to refer any suspicious cases to the government. She also called on members of the public to maintain good hygiene and keep away from animals or animal droppings when travelling in the mainland.
The minister said mainland authorities have found no indication that the disease – a viral type of pneumonia – can be spread among people, nor have any medical personnel fallen sick so far.
Hospital Authority chief Tony Ko said no suspected case has been identified so far.
But Professor Yuen said the current outbreak in Wuhan bears some similarities to the 1997 bird flu outbreak, and the Sars outbreak in 2003, as everyone who has fallen ill is linked to the same seafood market in the mainland city; and that around 25 percent of the victims are seriously ill.
“At this stage, according to information from the mainland, we don’t know what kind of virus is involved. However we have reason to believe that this may be a new, emerging infectious disease that is similar to Sars or bird flu”, Yuen said.
But he added that he thinks there’s only a “slim chance” that Hong Kong could be affected by another mass outbreak like Sars.
He said health authorities are now much better equipped to deal with such emergencies, with much better tests, expertise on respiratory illnesses, infection controls, and communications with their mainland counterparts.
“There’s no need to panic, but the level of alertness needs to be heightened”, he said.