The Hong Kong government is boosting efforts to counter a pneumonia phenomenon that is suspected to originate from Wuhan city in central China.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Monday convened a steering committee meeting, involving officials from?relevant policy bureaus and government departments, to discuss the latest situation as well as prevention and control measures in a bid to safeguard public health.
During the meeting, authorities decided to step up surveillance and risk communication, including amendment to the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance to include severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent as a statutorily notifiable infectious disease, with the rule expected to be gazetted this week, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The government said on Monday that port health measures will be further strengthened as additional thermal imaging systems have been put in place at the Hong Kong International Airport and the West Kowloon Station of the Express Rail Link for checking body temperature of travelers with increased frequency of random checking.
Fever patients with acute respiratory symptoms who had visited Wuhan within 14 days prior to the onset of the illness will be immediately referred to public hospitals for isolation, treatment and follow-up, according to a government press release.
“Currently, no serious pneumonia case related to Wuhan has been detected in Hong Kong, but the cluster of viral pneumonia cases in Wuhan can be regarded as a ‘Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance’,” Chan said on Monday.
“Upon risk assessment, the Government officially activated the Serious Response Level, the second tier of the three-tier response level system, on January 4 and implemented the corresponding measures under this response level,” she said.
According to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health, since Dec. 31 last year, the CHP has received reports of a total of 21 cases under the enhanced surveillance system with recent travel history to Wuhan, Hubei, as of noon on Monday, including five added on the day.
The newly added patients, including a two-year-old boy, had been to Wuhan in the past 14 days. They were being treated under isolation in public hospitals as they were presented with fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia symptoms, the Hospital Authority said, adding they were all in stable condition.
Meanwhile, HKEJ has learnt that a male student of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) allegedly did not feel well and showed fever symptoms during a rehearsal before he was sent to hospital by ambulance.
While he was said to have recently returned to Hong Kong from Wuhan, it was understood that he was not listed in the new cases reported on Monday.
Responding to a query, the HKAPA said a student who returned from Wuhan to Hong Kong did not feel well and was hospitalized on Monday, and that the person was discharged after treatment.
In another case, a mainland student of the Chinese University of Hong Kong who returned from Wuhan last week and was sent to Prince of Wales Hospital on Sunday night tested negative for pneumonia.
The CHP said 16 of the 21 local cases have been confirmed to result from common respiratory virus or influenza virus, while the rest are still awaiting confirmation.
Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki, who is a urologist by profession, on Monday criticized the government for lacking concrete actions, such as making special arrangements for high-speed trains arriving in Hong Kong via Wuhan or sending staff to conduct body temperature checks on board.
He had sought permission to raise an urgent question on this at the Legislative Council’s full chamber meeting this Wednesday, RTHK quoted Kwok as saying.
Kwok said in a radio program on Tuesday morning that the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance the government decided to amend has very large power, and that he hopes the administration would exercise caution when pushing the amendment.
The World Health Organization is not recommending imposition of any travel or trade restrictions on China, as well as any concrete measure on travelers, as of now.
Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the Carol Yu Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong, noted the possibility that the mysterious pneumonia has fit the definition of “super spread”, that is, it may see human-to-human transmission in a specific environment, based on a surface analysis.
Ho urged the Chinese health authorities to publicize the genome mapping of the virus in relation to the unidentified pneumonia so that Hong Kong can develop a fast genetic test.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday told reporters before a weekly Executive Council meeting that the administration will raise its alertness over the Wuhan outbreak of viral pneumonia cases with unknown cause.
Lam pointed out that the government has adopted appropriate, comprehensive and strict measures to cope with the cluster of viral pneumonia cases with unknown cause detected in Wuhan, and that it maintains the three principles of rapid response, high alertness, and openness and transparency.
The administration will amend the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance by means of negative vetting, with the Food and Health Bureau looking to gazette the amendment within this week, the chief executive said.
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