HK warned to prepare for airlift

Top News | Mary Ann Benitez 17 Feb 2020

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Hong Kong to prepare itself for the evacuation of some 2,200 Hongkongers stranded in Hubei.

"Decisions on evacuating citizens are up to [countries and territories] but WHO advice is that they have to prepare themselves if there is an importation of cases," Tedros replied to queries from The Standard.

He said the UN health agency has issued "interim guidance" on how to manage and care for any returning travelers who are infected.

Michael Ryan, executive director of health emergencies, said on Saturday that WHO will be able to offer advice on request on how to evacuate people "in an appropriate manner."

He added: "But in general we need to be very careful when doing those kinds of processes because we have to balance the public health benefit against the issues around quarantine, about placing people together, some of whom might be affected and others who may not be infected."

An evacuation from Hubei is an important issue "but it's also one that needs to be done sensitively and decisions to make mass evacuations and mass quarantines need to be taken with the best possible public health evidence and with the highest standards of human rights at its center."

Meanwhile, Tedros told a Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday that it was "impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take."

He said the WHO was encouraged to see no widespread community transmission outside of China but was concerned by the continued increase in mainland case numbers and the infection of health-care workers in China and Japan. This comes as South Korea reported a new case involving an 82-year-old man with no record of overseas travel, bringing the country's total to 29 after five days without new infections.

In the Philippines, two of the remaining confirmed cases have been discharged and are likely to have returned to Wuhan.

That came as President Rodrigo Duterte lifted his travel ban on Taiwan after including the island last week in a ban he imposed on February 2 against non-Filipinos and residents from the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau flying to Manila, and outbound travel to the locations by his nationals.

The decision has stranded an unknown number of domestic helpers and residents bound for Hong Kong, with flights unlikely to resume until March 28.

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