26 October 2016
History shows that an outbreak in a small neighborhood can turn into a global pandemic. Photo: Reuters
History shows that an outbreak in a small neighborhood can turn into a global pandemic. Photo: Reuters

No room to slack in face of Zika threat

The Hong Kong government issued an outbound travel alert (OTA) on Singapore on Sept. 2, urging citizens who are planning to visit the country to stay vigilant amid an increase in Zika infections.

Pregnant women or those who are trying to get pregnant should avoid travel to the city state. The Zika virus causes microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads.

The travel warning was both timely and necessary.

There have been 189 confirmed cases and just in the past week, more than 30 have been diagnosed everyday.

Also each day, hundreds of thousands of people travel to and from Singapore, a busy tourist and financial hub, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

Many travel between Singapore and Hong Kong.

It’s estimated that in the next several weeks, at least 40 local tour groups comprising hundreds of holidaymakers will visit Singapore.

Any one of them could be at risk of contracting the Zika virus.

We can’t be too careful.

History has shown that an epidemic in any part of the world could quickly turn into a global health crisis because of the ease in which people travel nowadays, whether for work or leisure.

AIDS, probably the deadliest in recent years, originated in the Republic of Congo in the mid-1970s where small, isolated outbreaks had been recorded.

However, it was not until the early 1980s that AIDS evolved into a global pandemic when the HIV virus and its carriers reached major African ports.

More recently, SARS claimed nearly 300 lives in Hong Kong in 2003.

The tragedy started from a single visitor from the mainland who had checked into a hotel in Hong Kong.

He spread the virus to dozen other guests from around the world, who then carried the corona virus to their home countries.

These painful lessons show that an outbreak of a highly infectious disease in an international transport hub like Singapore could quickly turn into a global health crisis.

The threat to the rest of the world will multiply if local authorities are unable to take action. There is no room for complacency.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 5 

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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