HK bureaucrats struggle to get their act together in Wuhan virus response

Local | 23 Jan 2020 6:57 pm

Even as the first few people suspected to have come into close contact with Hong Kong's first two confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases went into quarantine at the Lady Maclehose camp in Sai Kung, officials continued to send confusing signals about how the situation being tackled, RTHK reports.
There was no upgrading of the alert level although mainland imposed a clampdown in Wuhan, cutting off all transport out of the city. By evening, two more cities in the same Hubei provinces have been placed under similar orders.
But health officials in Hong Kong continue to say there is only a low risk of a full-fledged outbreak here.
The Controller for Centre for Health Protection, Wong Ka-hing said they are still considering whether to put in place additional precautionary measures such as requiring all mainland visitors arriving by high speed rail, to fill in health declaration forms.
“There are challenges because the number of passengers is quite big and we don’t want to delay their passage," he said.
Many experts have been calling for this, saying this is needed as thermal imaging being done may not enough detect people ill with the virus. Medical experts have said there is no need for Hong Kong to panic, but many of them had called for more measures like health forms.
Only people flying in from virus-hit Wuhan have to fill out health declarations now. When asked about expanding this to all visitors from the mainland by train, Dr Wong said operational and manpower issues would have to be sorted out first.
The authorities had announced two people had tested positive for the virus by evening today. It took them almost 24 hours to confirm that both patients did indeed have the coronavirus.
After the initial tests, the Health Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee announced the news and declared the cases as "highly suspicious".
Both the men are now at Princess Margaret Hospital in isolation ward.
People who were suspected of having come into close contact with the two were sent to Lady Maclehose camp as a precaution.
Among them was a young man who said he was visiting Hong Kong from Australia. He'd stayed at the same hotel in Shatin that one of the infected men had also spent a night in.
He told reporters he didn't feel sick, but said he'd stayed at the Alva Hotel by Royal for the past two days.
It's not clear how close his room was to that of the infected man nor was there any official information about if all people who had come into close contact with the two have been located.
But health authorities did acknowledge that one of the infected patient had actually been turned away from Prince of Wales Hospital on Sunday because he wasn't running a fever.
The 56-year-old who had recently been to Wuhan, then checked himself into the hotel a day later, before returning to the same hospital with a fever. Authorities then found that he was infected with the new coronavirus.
The health secretary was not seen in public on Friday even as mainland announced clampdowns and neighbouring SAR, Macau, said they are looking to close down all casinos there as a precaution.
Hong Kong's official response was slammed by the pro-democracy lawmakers, who accused officials of lacking the guts to issue warnings like advice against travelling to the mainland as they fear this would offend Beijing.
Meanwhile the Consumer Council has urged traders not to raise the prices of face masks to "outrageous levels" as the demand went up as more people started using them as a precaution.
It also said as free society the government cannot put a limit on price, but they can ensure enough supplies to avoid a scarcity which will drive the prices up.

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