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SFH on human swine flu (with video)

     Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow; the Controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Thomas Tsang; and the Deputy Director of Home Affairs, Miss Adeline Wong; at a press conference today (May 6):

Reporter: What sort of procedures will the guests face when they are allowed to leave the hotel? And secondly, for the six who are still unaccounted for, eventually I suppose when they would leave Hong Kong, and they will be stopped at the immigration authority, will they face any risk of question?

Secretary for Food and Health: I will try to answer the last question first and Miss Wong would answer your first one regarding the arrangement for people leaving the quarantine facilities tomorrow and also the day after.  In regard to those people who did not actually undergo quarantine, so when they appear anywhere in Hong Kong, then we can identify them, we will require them to have a health check as soon as possible.  Subject to the result of the health check, they might be given a clearance to leave, and also they can get back their belongings from the hotel if they have one.  Of course, according to our regulations, we can actually take legal action against them if we want to, but we will look at the details of the situation, and we will also consult our lawyers before we do so.

Reporter: So are you saying that they will be able to leave Hong Kong without consequences?

Secretary for Food and Health: They will definitely be stopped if they try to leave Hong Kong at any of the borders.

Deputy Director of Home Affairs: Regarding the arrangement for leaving the quarantine centres, on the day of departure, the Department of Health will conduct a medical check on the quarantined.  And subject to satisfactory completion of the medical check, a certificate of conclusion of quarantine will be issued. This certificate would certify that the quarantined have undergone quarantine and have shown no symptom or sign that they are being infected with human swine influenza or Influenza A H1N1 during the quarantine period.  And the Tourism Commission has been helping guests who are visiting Hong Kong with their onward bookings, including their flight bookings.  And the Government, as a gesture of hospitality, will also provide two-night free accommodation to those visitors at our pre-booked hotels.  We will also provide transportation for them to go to their destinations. And these destinations include the Hong Kong International Airport, cross boundary control points such as the Huanggang shuttle bus station, and also the pre-booked hotels.  We will also arrange transportation to major public transport facilities including MTR stations.

Reporter: Is there any reason why the quarantine period for the guests of the hotel should not end on Thursday night? Secondly, have you got a target deadline that you expect everybody must leave the hotel on Friday night?

Secretary for Food and Health: I will leave Dr Tsang to answer your question regarding the period of quarantine.  But regarding the closure of the hotel, definitively we would not allow anybody to go into the hotel after the vacation of all the quarantined people.  So this is to ensure that we have a thorough cleansing and disinfection of the place.  So nobody can actually enter it afterwards.

Reporter: Do you have a target time when you expect everybody to be out of the hotel?  When did you expect the hotel to be completely vacated?

Secretary for Food and Health: There are a number of logistics we are organising right now with those people who are staying in the hotel.  The commanders have issued a request form for everyone.  So they would tell us where they would like to go after the quarantine is lifted.  There are several places V one is the airport, the other is the two hotels that we offer to them, and thirdly is our land borders, and fourthly is public transport areas like MTR stations and so on.  So these are all being offered to them.  It depends on how big the variety of this arrangement is required, we will arrange the transport such as mini-buses and coaches to send them to their destinations.  We will organise it in a systematic way.  This would last for sometime up to one or two hours.  So the exact time of what time it would close is difficult to say, but definitely it would be closed right after the last person under quarantine has left.  And the hotel will be given back to the management of the hotel so they can do the cleansing and disinfection.

Controller of the Centre for Health Protection: As regard your first question, you are right in pointing out that for the hotel guests, their period of quarantine began on May 1 as opposed to April 30.  The reason is our quarantine operation, we went to the hotel on May 1, and we want to make sure that there was no environmental factors, contamination, that could lead to infection and propagation of the virus in the hotel setting.  You probably remember SARS hotel back in 2003, in that outbreak, we believed that the environment had a major role to do with disease transmission.  So to be on the safe side, we define the beginning of the quarantine period as May 1, when we started the quarantine operation, we started cleaning up the place, and disinfecting the place.

Reporter: The first confirmed death outside Mexico, does it have anything to do with our quarantine procedures in Hong Kong, our stringent measures?  If someone did not die out of Mexico, would we still be so stringent on quarantining 300 people?

Secretary for Food and Health: Our policy is based on the information we get at the time. The quarantine decision is made on May 1, and at that time, there is very limited information regarding those cases in the United States, still a very small number compared to what it is today.  There is only one case that is a fatal case, but it is exported from Mexico to Texas.  And also the main consideration at that time we have, is the big number of affected cases in Mexico and also the high number of mortality there.  Although we know that very few of those cases at that time were confirmed by virulogical test, but subsequently of course, this is getting clearer and clearer nowadays.  But still, if you look at the number of Mexico yesterday, they have 500 something confirmed cases, and out of that there are 20 odd mortality.  So in other words, I calculated the mortality then, it is actually 4.3%.  So, if you have an epidemic that causes 4.3% of deaths, it is something pretty serious.  We know that Mexico is definitely a country that is heavily affected by this epidemic.  But whether this is going to be repeated again in other countries, we do not know. There is certain similarity between Hong Kong and Mexico, we are both in the subtropical region.  I think, weather-wise, some of things are also similar.  We also concern perhaps, if you look at the figures in Europe, some of the southern countries such as Spain actually have the fastest spread too.  So this is another thing that is related to the weather or climate of the particular place.  It is very difficult to predict this.  I have to say that I am not an expert in this area.  But I have listened to various experts, both from the Department of Health, and the Centre for Health Protection, our universities, and also from people who have first-hand information and first-hand knowledge of this particular disease.  So, I have to say that, at this point in time, we are able to gather as much knowledge as possible.  With time goes, of course we will be able to know better.  And if that is the case, we will be able to modify our policy, and perhaps a more exact policy in due course.

(Please also refer to the Chinese session of the transcript.)

Ends/Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Issued at HKT 21:25


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