26 February 2020
Stepped-up hygiene measures are implemented at the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, which connects with mainland China's high-speed rail system. Photo: CNSA
Stepped-up hygiene measures are implemented at the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, which connects with mainland China's high-speed rail system. Photo: CNSA

Govt steps up measures to prevent spread of Wuhan pneumonia

Hong Kong authorities are stepping up efforts to prevent an outbreak of pneumonia caused by a new type of coronavirus from Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, from spreading to the city.

Meanwhile, a mainland health official has confirmed that the virus is spreading via person-to-person transmission, contrary to earlier reports that there was no evidence of contagion between humans.

The outbreak has spread to more mainland cities and similar cases were reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. 

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee told a press conference on Monday that no one should ignore the possibility that the Wuhan-linked virus may be introduced to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In view of the latest situation and risk assessment, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health announced several new measures to enhance the surveillance of suspected cases and revising the reporting criteria.

The measures were adopted following a Steering Committee meeting on Monday morning, which was attended by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, officials from the Food and Health Bureau, the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority, as well as some experts.

Starting from midnight Tuesday, inbound travelers by air from Wuhan will be required to complete and submit a health declaration form under the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation.

If they are found to have fulfilled the reporting criteria of a severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent, they will be compulsorily referred to public hospitals for isolation, treatment and follow-up.

According to Director of Health Dr. Constance Chan Hon-yee, there are 11-12 direct flights to Hong Kong from Wuhan each week.

She acknowledged that the new rule relies on passengers’ honesty and cooperation to a large extent, and those who refuse to cooperate may face a fine or imprisonment, adding that officials will take law enforcement action if necessary.

Secretary Chan said the form requires passengers to fill in their contact information for follow-up purposes.

However, health officials said there was no need for such forms on trains, as the temperature checks being done at the West Kowloon terminus are effective enough, RTHK reported.

Moreover, medical practitioners are requested to make a report to the CHP for further investigation if they encounter an individual with fever and acute respiratory illness, or pneumonia, and who had done any of the following within 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms: (a) visited Hubei province (regardless of whether they had visited wet markets or seafood markets there); (b) visited a medical hospital in the mainland; or (c) had close contact with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus while that patient was symptomatic.

Constance Chan said her department will issue a letter to private doctors and all hospitals that the scope of the reporting has been extended to cover the entire Hubei province.

Should an outbreak occur in other cities and provinces, authorities will consider whether the scope should be widened, she said.

Dr. Tony Ko Pat-sing, chief executive of the Hospital Authority, said some of the public hospitals’ general out-patient clinics may be converted into units that only deal with cases suspected to be linked to the Wuhan pneumonia within 48 hours if necessary.

According to information from the National Health Commission, the total number of novel coronavirus infections in Wuhan has risen to 198 cases as of 10 p.m. Sunday. Among them, 25 patients had been discharged, three had died and 170 were still hospitalized.

The nationwide number stood at 218 as of Monday night after cases were also confirmed in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province.

In Hong Kong, the CHP reported seven more suspicious cases on Monday, bringing the total to 106.

There are currently no patients confirmed as being infected with novel coronavirus, according to the CHP.

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