Inter-departmental efforts to prevent return of SARS


A specially convened inter-departmental meeting today (January 8) agreed to redouble cross-sectoral efforts to minimise the risk of the return of SARS in Hong Kong.

Chaired by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, the meeting noted there had been three confirmed SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) cases since the summer break - one each in Singapore and Taiwan, both originating in a laboratory setting - and an earlier reported case in Guangdong with an unknown source of infection.

Calling for concerted effort from the community to guard against the return of SARS in Hong Kong, Dr Yeoh said: "The recent reoccurrence of confirmed and suspected SARS cases in Guangdong reminds us of the potential threat of SARS to our community.

"There is a need for unabated efforts on all fronts to protect our population from SARS infections.

"The Government, the healthcare sector and the community are doing all necessary work to make sure cases could be picked up as early as possible so that contact tracing could be done to protect the community from possible outbreaks," he said.

The meeting was attended by senior representatives from the Department of Health (DH), Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), Social Welfare Department (SWD), Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), Information Services Department (ISD), Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB), Home Affairs Department (HAD) and Tourism Commission as well as the Hospital Authority (HA).

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Yeoh stressed that the HA and the DH had swiftly upscaled their precautionary measures to guard against the resurgence of SARS in Hong Kong following the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation\'s recent decisions to upgrade the suspected SARS case in Guangdong to a laboratory-confirmed case.

"A new surveillance system has been in place since January 6 to monitor patients with pneumonia symptoms and a history of travel to Guangdong province during the 10 days before the onset of symptoms.

"As of yesterday, a total of 39 pneumonia cases have been reported by HA, private hospitals and clinics. None of these cases has tested positive for SARS coronavirus (CoV) thus far," he said.

Dr Yeoh said infection control measures in public hospitals and clinics had been stepped up simultaneously. These included:

* All healthcare workers and visitors to hospitals are now required to wear surgical masks in hospital areas.

* Temperature taking is now mandatory for all patients arriving at accident and emergency departments and outpatient clinics while staff are advised to take their temperature when going to work.

* Healthcare workers attending to patients with fever or respiratory symptoms are now required to put on full protective gear.

* Patients with fever will wait and attend consultations at designated areas at accident and emergency departments and clinics.

* Laboratory surveillance will be extended to test samples from patients with community-acquired pneumonia.

The HA would also make available information on the preventive measures that they have given to private hospitals and clinics for reference.

Recognising that a population-based, cross-sectoral approach would be vital for effective prevention of the disease, the meeting vowed to fight the battle on a broader front, involving government departments/agencies other than DH/HA together with various sectors of the community.

Dr Yeoh said the AFCD would continue with the surveillance of local wildlife for evidence of SARS CoV.

The surveillance was being conducted in the form of a collaborative project with the Department of Microbiology, University of Hong Kong. So far, 10 civet cats, 42 various other ground-dwelling small mammals, 36 bats, 36 monkeys and 31 snakes had been tested with negative results.

"These tests are particularly meaningful in view of the WHO\'s warning that wild animals could be reservoirs for the SARS CoV. They also represent an invaluable contribution to worldwide research efforts to identify which animals are capable of carrying the virus and transmitting the virus to humans," he said.

"Schools and welfare service agencies have been reminded to step up precautionary measures following confirmation of the SARS case in Guangdong.

"Their adherence to relevant preventive guidelines and contingency plans will be closely monitored by EMB and SWD."

Dr Yeoh said FEHD was pressing ahead with the implementation of the longer-term measures recommended by Team Clean.

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