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Senior UN health official praises Hong Kong’s 'heroic' efforts against SARS

Senior UN health official praises Hong Kong’s 'heroic' efforts against SARS

Dr. David Heymann
A senior United Nations health official has praised the “heroic” efforts taken by Hong Kong, the second largest locus of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) after the rest of China, to contain the new and potentially deadly disease.

“All of us have nothing but admiration for you and your team,” the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Director for Communicable Diseases, David Heymann, told a meeting of Hong Kong government officials yesterday.

Particularly impressive among measures taken by Hong Kong, in some cases exceeding those recommended by WHO, are exit screening procedures at border checkpoints, publication of information on all buildings where residents have developed SARS, procedures for isolation and quarantine, and aggressive contract tracing that relies on a system initially developed by the police force for use in criminal investigations.

As of today, Hong Kong has reported a cumulative total of 1,654 probable cases and 204 deaths. Worldwide 6,903 probable SARS cases with 495 deaths have been reported from 29 countries, with the vast majority coming from the rest of China – 4,560 cases and 219 deaths.

Since 29 March, Hong Kong has introduced medical posts, supported by infrared temperature scanners, at its border points. All incoming travellers are now required to sign health declarations. As of 14 April, the government has prohibited close contacts of SARS patients from leaving Hong Kong, by monitoring residents via their Hong Kong identity card numbers. As a result of these routine checks, 37 people have been referred to health authorities. Of these, two were later confirmed to be SARS cases.

Hong Kong is also employing a strategic computer system to facilitate contact tracing and to identify addresses and names of close contacts of SARS patients. Geographic clusters of SARS cases, or so-called “hot spots” in certain buildings throughout the territory, have been identified using this scheme. The government maintains data on cases and their contacts in a centralized, dedicated eSARS database.

In the rest of China, cases continued to rise in Beijing and in the two most heavily affected provinces outside of the capital, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia.