The measures introduced in Hong Kong to contain the coronavirus outbreak are working because the city learned its lesson from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
That was the consensus of a panel of guests who discussed the physical and mental challenges facing Hong Kong since the outbreak at the start of this year.
Professor Keiji Fukuda, Director and a Clinical Professor at The University of Hong Kong School of Public Health; Dr. Arisina Ma, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association; Elizabeth Cheung, health reporter at the South China Morning Post; and Odile Thiang, Anti-Stigma Projects Coordinator at Mind Hong Kong, all agreed the Hong Kong government had so far been effective in preventing a major community outbreak.
Dr. Ma said that Hong Kong was one of the only places in Asia to continuously invest in infectious control research since the SARS crisis of 2003.
As of February 26, there were 85 confirmed cases in Hong Kong. For perspective, Prof. Fukuda pointed out this was an average of two people infected per day. Odile Thiang of Mind HK added that during the week of February 10, Hong Kong reported 13 deaths contributed to influenza.
SCMP’s Elizabeth Cheung said that the government’s communications over the virus had improved, with daily press conferences to update the media. She said it could do better, however, in how it collaborates with other information providers to update the press on the status of Hongkongers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, for example.
Longer-term, the panel agreed that more research was needed on these types of viruses. Prof. Fukuda pointed out that with SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the incentive to develop a vaccine wasn’t there because the viruses died out relatively quickly. He called for governments to work to develop vaccines in the period between outbreaks.
“Other crises come up and attention wanders,” he said.
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