Govt must prepare for a tough battle against Wuhan virus

January 23, 2020 10:48
The SAR government should handle the Wuhan pneumonia in the same way it dealt with the 2003 SARS outbreak. Photo: Reuters

A massive outbreak of pneumonia in the mainland city of Wuhan, traced to a new strain of coronavirus, has already resulted in 444 confirmed infections, including 17 deaths, across Hubei province as of 8 p.m. Wednesday. There are also confirmed cases of the highly infectious disease in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan.

In Hong Kong, a 39-year-old man was quarantined on Wednesday after he tested positive for the new coronavirus, Reuters reported.

The tourist from Wuhan came to Hong Kong on Tuesday via the high-speed rail from Shenzhen and was detected having fever at the border, according to the report.

Also, according to a government press release issued early Thursday morning, the Centre for Health Protection under the Department of Health is investigating a second suspected case of novel coronavirus infection.

The case involves a 56-year-old Hong Kong man who visited Wuhan on Jan. 10 and then took an Air China flight (CA8279) to Shenzhen on Jan. 19 before returning to Hong Kong by MTR through the Lo Wu Control Point on the same day.

Since the number of infections has jumped rapidly within a short period of time, the World Health Organization has warned that human-to-human transmission of the new virus may continue for quite a while.

The concern now is whether the virus will spread globally and result in an outbreak of catastrophic proportions.

According to Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, head of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, the spread of the new coronavirus may now be entering the third wave, meaning human-to-human transmissions can take place within households and hospitals.

Yuen is worried that once a full-blown community outbreak of the disease happens, it could quickly develop into a nationwide emergency situation that is similar to the SARS pandemic that swept across the mainland and Hong Kong back in 2003.

As such, he said, it is of the utmost importance for the authorities to adopt sufficient preventive measures before the virus completely enters its third-wave spread.

We believe Yuen’s warning must not be taken lightly and health authorities must always bear in mind this principle: you can’t be too careful when it comes to fighting a deadly epidemic.

We therefore strongly urge the SAR government to immediately prepare for a worst-case scenario by activating all contingency mechanisms and adopting the same response measures implemented 17 years ago.

In other words, the SAR administration should handle the Wuhan pneumonia in the same way it dealt with the 2003 SARS outbreak.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 22

Translation by Alan Lee with addditonal reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal