- Hong Kong needs to be more proactive in requesting information from mainland Chinese authorities, doctors say
- Respiratory medicine expert Professor David Hui says it is only a matter of time before there will be cases in other mainland provinces
Public health experts in Hong Kong have urged the authorities to step up prevention measures after three more suspected cases of the newly discovered coronavirus were reported across the border, in Shenzhen and Shanghai, rather than Wuhan, the outbreak epicentre, increasing the threat to the city.
Hong Kong needed to be more proactive in requesting information from mainland Chinese authorities, as well as requiring visitors to fill in health declaration forms, doctors and a legislator said.
"As hospitals outside Wuhan (the epicentre of the outbreak) now have the ability to test for the new virus, it is only a matter of time before there will be cases in other provinces," Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, an expert in respiratory medicine at Chinese University, told a public forum organised by RTHK.
"There is also the risk a visitor to Hong Kong may have already contracted the virus but not yet fallen ill."
Two people in Shenzhen, directly across the border from Hong Kong, were in quarantine at the Third People's Hospital, which specialises in the treatment of infectious diseases, sources earlier told the Post. A medical source said a person suspected to have the virus was being treated in Shanghai, but did not elaborate.
With the Lunar New Year holiday approaching, authorities on the mainland and in Hong Kong will face a tougher challenge to control the spread of the virus as more than 3 billion trips are expected be made over a 40-day period starting on Tuesday as people head home for the festivities.
"We need to be very careful and provide more information to visitors from the mainland so they know to go to public hospitals if they exhibit symptoms," he said.
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Authorities in Wuhan, the city in Hubei province where the virus was first discovered, announced on Saturday the total number of cases had increased to 62. Two patients died, eight are in serious condition and 19 have been discharged.
Hong Kong has no confirmed cases. In the 24 hours to noon on Sunday, nine more suspected cases were reported to Hong Kong health authorities and isolated in public hospitals, bringing the total to 99 since December 31. Most of the previous cases were discharged.
Two Chinese visitors to Thailand and a Chinese man working in Japan have already been confirmed as having been infected. Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and Nepal have also reported a number of suspected cases.
Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection has expanded the criteria to report a suspected case of the coronavirus to include people who had visited mainland hospitals or had close contact with a patient confirmed to have the virus. The initial reporting criteria were people who had either fever and respiratory infection or pneumonia, and who had been to Wuhan within 14 days of falling ill.
But Alfred Wong Yam-hong, spokesman for doctors' concern group Medecins Inspires, said the government needed to "stand firm and demand more information from China" on issues such as how contagious the virus was, rather than just waiting for official announcements and media reports.
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"This is a key period for Hong Kong to prevent the spread. Even the United States a whole ocean away requires travellers from Wuhan to fill in health declarations. Hong Kong should have higher contact with mainland authorities, we should be more well prepared," Wong said.
Hui agreed there should be increased body temperature checks at entry points to the city, but did not think it was a good idea to carry them out on flights as the limited air flow inside planes would make the readings inaccurate.
Legislator Chan Hoi-yan, deputy chairwoman of the Legislative Council's health services panel, suggested further widening the reporting criteria to include patients who had been to the mainland.
She also urged the Hospital Authority to funnel patients with less serious conditions to clinics to relieve the pressure on public hospitals, which are already stretched to the limit with an influx of flu patients.
The strain of coronavirus found in Wuhan " named 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organisation " is the seventh of its kind to be identified.
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Of the six others, four cause only minor respiratory symptoms similar to those of a cold, while two severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) are deadly, with the latter accounting for more than 850 deaths around the world since 2012.
The new strain was found in samples taken from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where many of the patients worked or visited frequently. However, some patients who tested positive have denied ever going to the market, sparking fears the disease might be contagious. The WHO has not ruled out such a possibility.
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