No quick end to virus - so don't lower your guard

Top News | Jane Cheung 9 Mar 2020

The coronavirus outbreak will not subside anytime soon, says top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung.

There could be a improvement during the summer, but the virus has spread to the southern hemisphere and will return in the winter via imported cases, Yuen of the University of Hong Kong said in a pre-recorded television interview yesterday.

"It will not come to an end," he said. "The situation may get better when summer arrives but it'll come back in winter."

Yuen called on citizens to avoid unnecessary travel and pay attention to personal hygiene, so as to buy time for researchers to develop vaccines and medication against Covid-19.

More than 101,700 cases and 3,400 deaths have been recorded worldwide, including 80,800 cases and 3,100 deaths on the mainland, where the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, Hubei province, in December.

"Hong Kong has defended well in the past two months. The number of confirmed cases is rather low," he said.

"But now we're mostly affected by imported cases, of which we will see more if the outbreak worsens on the mainland or in other countries. In that case transmissions may become much more serious."

Yuen said the SAR government should heighten alertness for more imported cases from India and see if there are clusters of cases emerging in Southeast Asian communities in the SAR after four Hong Kong residents who visited India on the same tour were confirmed with the coronavirus.

From today onward, the rapid test for the Covid-19 will be launched in private clinics on a voluntary basis and Yuen suggested extending it too all private practitioners and hospitals across the SAR.

"The more samples and test results we get, the more we understand about the transmission in Hong Kong," he said.

The head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, Chuang Shuk-kwan, echoed Yuen's opinion, saying the government expected to see more imported cases.

"But it is difficult for a place like Hong Kong to quarantine travelers from all around the world. Citizens are advised to delay unnecessary travel outside Hong Kong as there is a risk everywhere," she said.

"There is a possibility the coronavirus may stay with us, or come and go," she said. "In the future we may treat this disease like influenza, but a more serious one."

Their comments came after the World Health Organization said world leaders should not assume Covid-19 will be seasonal and peter out in the summer like seasonal flu.

A mainland study found the "virus is highly sensitive to high temperature," preventing it from spreading in warmer regions.

Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou suggested that countries and regions with a lower temperature adopt the strictest control measures.

As a precautionary measure and to contain the spread of the virus in Hong Kong, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee urged the public not to let their guard down.

She said authorities will start a scheme subsidizing research on the virus and study its transmission and how to diagnose and treat it effectively.

However, more Hongkongers have been spotted spending the weekend with family and friends on the streets, as shopping malls and restaurants saw more customers in the past two days than previous weekends.

An elderly couple in their 70s were dining in a Chinese restaurant yesterday afternoon as the husband said it was the first time they have had a dim sum lunch in two months.

"It seems that the virus has died down a bit, so my wife and I come out for a walk and Chinese tea. It used to be our routine every Sunday," he said.

"But we still pay attention to personal hygiene. We keep our masks on and wash our hands before we eat.

"Life has to go on. We can't stay at home every minute."

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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