Beleaguered health chief Yeoh Eng-kiong has come under fire for not
alerting the public about the atypical pneumonia outbreak early enough
and downplaying the virus threat.
Yeoh began to show signs of strain yesterday after five more hospital
workers showed symptoms of pneumonia, bringing the total to 29.
"I am sorry. I am not God," Yeoh told legislator Albert Chan during
a specially convened Legco meeting yesterday.
"But the fact that I have no clues about this virus doesn't mean we
don't have any preventive measures in place," he added.
Chan hit out at the government for downplaying the outbreak and not
doing enough to alert the public, as Yeoh repeatedly called it an
outbreak of a very "unusual circumstance" among hospital workers.
"It seems the government is out of touch with reality. It only
describes it as a respiratory infection incident but the press reports
say Hong Kong is being invaded by a deadly virus and the whole city is
"I don't know whether the government is deliberately downplaying the
outbreak to turn a killer matter into an incident only, just like
turning the June 4 massacre into the June 4 incident," Chan said.
The SAR government started communicating with the public only after
the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued a global alert, he
He also criticised the government for misleading the public by saying
the outbreak was confined to hospitals.
"You haven't identified the source of the virus. I understand this.
Maybe you need to spend many years on this. But there are some ways to
prevent infection. Does the government have responsibility to send
this message out?" Chan asked.
Yeoh denied the government's response had been low-key, citing a
follow-up by a new task force and a visit to the Prince of Wales
Hospital by the Chief Executive.
"But we need to strike a balance. Words like `Hong Kong has been
quarantined' are detrimental to Hong Kong. I believe you don't want to
cause panic in Hong Kong," the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
said. "I just tell you the facts what I know and what I don't know.
This is the most correct thing to do.
"Do you want us to frighten people so they are scared to step out? I
believe this is not your intention."
Yeoh said on average Hong Kong had about 2,000 cases of pneumonia each
month, about half of them caused by viruses.
"The pattern has not changed and our experience is very similar to
that in other developed countries.
"So, we are not talking about any outbreak in the community," Yeoh
He said the information they had gathered showed the illness was a
viral infection, transmitted through droplets sprayed by an infected
person, and health care workers or close family members were
He said they were looking at whether the illness was caused by a new
virus, a mutated virus or an existing virus that was behaving in a
The government has divided the cases into four groups those at
Prince of Wales Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital where the patient
who was transferred from Hanoi to Hong Kong died, five staff at Pamela
Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, and a private doctor and three of
his staff at a clinic where he was reported to have seen a patient.
Meanwhile, Chinese Vice-minister for Health, Zhu Qingsheng, said
yesterday there was no evidence Hong Kong's pneumonia outbreak
originated from Guangdong.
He also said he was confident Hong Kong had taken measures to contain
the outbreak, and therefore, there was no cause for international
Zhu also confirmed a team of WHO experts had flown into Beijing to
investigate the mainland's own atypical pneumonia outbreak in
He said the team would focus on finding the source and stopping any
American businessman, surnamed Chen, dies at Princess Margaret
Hospital on Thursday. Total number of cases 43. Two in serious
34 patients in Prince of Wales Hospital of whom 20 are infected with
Three at Kwong Wah Hospital
Five at Pamela Youde Nethersole Hospital
One at Princess Margaret Hospital
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