Date
17 August 2017
Peter Piot (right) says lack of facilities in China to treat potential Ebola patients is worrying. Photo: HKEJ
Peter Piot (right) says lack of facilities in China to treat potential Ebola patients is worrying. Photo: HKEJ

HK must guard against Ebola risk from across the border: expert

Hong Kong will face a high risk if Ebola breaks out in mainland China, Peter Piot, a Belgian microbiologist known for his research into the contagious disease and AIDS, has warned.

The mainland has a relatively high risk of an Ebola outbreak compared to other countries in Asia, because of poor awareness of the virus in the nation and a close connection to West Africa due to Chinese people working and investing there, Piot said, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Lack of facilities in hospitals to handle potential patients poses the biggest risk to the country, said Piot, professor of global health and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Many hospitals in China are below standards in prevention and control of epidemics,” the expert said, adding that the prospect of Chinese returning home from West Africa undetected after being infected with the disease is worrying.

Piot called for the Chinese government to immediately step up its prevention and control measures on the border.

The mainland government should learn a lesson from its cover-up of the pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS, in 2003, Piot added, noting that the country must report at once any case it discovers.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, should have no problem in dealing with the disease considering its experience in handling SARS.

Yet the existing border control measures, such as questionnaires for voluntary reporting and body temperature measurement, are not sufficient, Piot said.

It is not enough to shield a place from the virus simply by relying on check and control of travelers entering the border.

Infected areas must ensure that no virus carriers are allowed to leave the country, by establishing scrutiny measures and checkpoints.

Suspected patients should be barred from crossing the border, with quick tests on the virus to be performed as soon as such cases are identified.

The incubation period of Ebola ranges from two to 21 days, which makes body temperature measurement at border ineffective in quarantining the virus from spreading.

The Hong Kong government has lowered the body temperature alert level to 37.5 degrees Celsius from 38 previously.

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VW/JP/RC

Freelance journalist

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