- Health declaration forms will be used at airport and expanded monitoring will cover everyone arriving from Hubei province
- Mainland authorities reveal there are five cases in Beijing, one in Shanghai and 14 in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong
Hong Kong has stepped up detection measures against the new Wuhan pneumonia-like coronavirus, including the use of health declaration forms at the airport and expanded monitoring of local suspected cases to cover those with symptoms and arriving from Hubei province.
The latest measures came as Chinese authorities confirmed that another person had died over the weekend from the infection, bringing the death toll to three in Wuhan, and for the first time revealed the virus had spread, with five cases in Beijing, one in Shanghai and 14 in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong.
The total confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 218.
In Hong Kong, seven more suspected infections were reported, taking the total to 106 as of 8am on Monday, according to the Centre for Health Protection. There were no confirmed cases in the city.
The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, said there were indications the severe acute respiratory syndrome-like virus " thought to have originated in a seafood and meat market in Wuhan " could spread through human-to-human transmission.
Hong Kong's health secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had attended a cross-departmental meeting on Monday morning for the latest reports on the situation, and hammered out three new measures.
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"There may be the first confirmed case in Hong Kong at any minute, so we must not let our guard down, and have to be well prepared with the most adequate response in place," Professor Chan said.
In a three-pronged package, Chan said all suspected infection cases with fever, pneumonia or respiratory symptoms who had been to Hubei province in the past 14 days had to be reported by all doctors and monitored by the health authorities.
Previously, the scope of monitoring only included those who had travelled to Wuhan, centre of the outbreak, visited any mainland hospitals or had direct contact with patients with confirmed infection.
Director of Health Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee insisted the expanded scope was sufficient despite newly reported cases in Beijing and Shenzhen. "All those patients had visited Wuhan before," she said.
Another key plank of the new strategy was a health declaration form to be filled by passengers who had taken direct flights from Wuhan. The director said they would be asked to declare any symptoms and put down their contact information for follow-up action if necessary.
Those reporting symptoms would be taken to public hospitals for further checks and isolation. False declaration could result in the maximum penalty of a HK$5,000 fine and six months in prison.
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But she faced a barrage of questions as to why the measure was not extended to visitors arriving by high-speed rail, or other border crossings such as the Lo Wu checkpoint and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
"If all passengers at the terminals have to stay in one crowded place and fill in health declaration forms, it may not be ideal for controlling the transmission of the virus," she said, adding that temperature screening at those terminals was already "operational sufficient and appropriate".
Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing said public hospitals would also strengthen their response mechanism. One clinic from each of the seven hospital regional groupings could be made available within 48 hours to treat patients infected with coronavirus. Patients with less urgent appointments would be transferred to other clinics.
Currently, 500 isolation wards at public hospitals are available, with more ordinary wards to be converted if necessary.
Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine expert from Chinese University, believed the measures were reasonable. He said it made sense to draw the line of monitoring at Hubei province where the virus was widely thought to have originated, since there was no apparent evidence of mass transmission in the mainland community yet.
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"The health declaration form has great limitations and yields little benefits actually, because many visitors will not honestly report their condition to get in. Some forms may even be filled in bulk by tour guides," he said.
The most effective measure, he said, was rigorous temperature screening at arrival checkpoints, highlighting confirmed cases in Thailand, Japan and South Korea, which were all discovered after temperature checks at airports.
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