Friday, March 29, 2013

Hong Kong: #Coronavirus - Deaths bring chill as SARS marked

Jeraldine Phneah
Thursday, March 28, 2013

The public will be informed at once should a new SARS-like virus killing patients overseas come to our shores - even if a case is only suspected.The undertaking yesterday by the Department of Health followed word from the World Health Organization that another two people had succumbed to the virus, bringing the death toll among 17 people infected since it was unearthed as novel coronavirus in the middle of last year to an alarming 11.
It also came as local authorities sought to dispel any potential criticism that they might be complacent by testing the bureaucracy for battle-readiness for any outbreak involving the quiet killer.

Roped into the simulation exercise - based on a scenario where Hong Kong faces having to cope with the arrival of a first case of novel coronavirus from overseas - were 36 key officials from three bureaus and nine departments.

Codenamed Exercise Ruby, the drill was organized by the Food and Health Bureau, the Centre for Health Protection and other government departments.

The exercise assessed the risk level by considering key factors such as:

Areas where the virus is likely to be transmitted;
Geographical spread;
Clinical severity;
Pre-existing immunity;
Availability of effective preventive measures; and
Recommendations by international authorities.
Once a case has been confirmed, key officials will convene a Serious Response Level steering committee meeting, chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man.
Ko is a health veteran who was in the thick of the battles Hong Kong waged when SARS laid waste to public confidence and the health system 10 years ago.

Also tested was the command structure as well as the mechanism to activate response levels.
The gravity of the threat was brought home by the deaths of a 73-year-old man from the United Arab Emirates in Munich on Tuesday and of a UK resident with a history of travel to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The new virus is singularly different from its SARS cousin in that it causes rapid kidney failure.
The WHO does not yet know how it is transmitted or how widespread it is.
"The Centre for Health Protection will continue to work closely with the WHO and other overseas health authorities to monitor the latest development of this novel infectious disease," a department spokesman said.
Locally, the Centre for Health Protection will continue its surveillance of hospitals, doctors and at the Hong Kong International Airport for any suspected cases.
It is advising travelers returning from affected countries who have respiratory symptoms to wear face masks, seek medical attention and inform doctors of their travel history.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the SARS outbreak yesterday were Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and health department officials.
They visited Gallant Garden to pay tribute to health- care workers who died in the front lines.
A minute's silence was also observed in honor of the 299 locals who died in 2003. Worldwide, a total of 775 succumbed to SARS.

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