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Opening remarks by SFH on human swine flu (with video)

     Following is the transcript of opening remarks by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a press conference on Hong Kong's preparedness for human swine influenza today (May 12) (English portion):

     Good afternoon, there is no confirmed case today, so this is not the reason why we are here.  I have mentioned last week that the Government will review its measures to fight the pandemic.  After securing more information in the past two weeks, and in the light of Hong Kong as well as overseas experiences, we are able to come up with a new strategy to manage the human swine flu.  The Steering Committee, chaired by the Chief Executive, held a meeting this morning and endorsed the strategy.

     As the situation around the world is still evolving, we will constantly review our strategy to make sure that it is not only viable and feasible but also one that is to the best interest of Hong Kong.

     Public health strategies against pandemic influenza are characterised in two phases: containment and mitigation.  But at this point of time, we are still aiming at containment for as long as it takes to delay community transmission, after which mitigation might take priority.

     It is impossible to predict accurately progress of epidemic and to draw a clear line in the transition from containment to mitigation in the context of Hong Kong.  However, when most places of the world are affected by the flu, it is unlikely that Hong Kong can be spared of local transmission for an extended period.

     We have devised plans for contact tracing and management under different scenarios in the containment phase: in the context of inbound flight, hotel, home, workplace, elderly homes, schools and public places.

     These plans, particularly in hotel setting, have taken into consideration local data and experience in handling the first (human swine) flu case in Hong Kong, as well as new findings outside Hong Kong.  New knowledge gained since May 1 when the first (human swine) flu case was confirmed in Hong Kong.

     It must be stressed that robust enforcement and adherence would be required in order to meet the present goal of containment.

     As local transmission becomes sustained and significant, isolation and quarantine is no longer appropriate or practicable.

     The range of public health measures that may be deployed in mitigation phase includes active promotion and adoption of basic measures: personal protective measures such as hand hygiene and use of face masks; personal care for those who fall ill and environmental hygiene, etc.

     And, secondly, social distancing, this includes school closure, work place contingencies, cancellation of mass gatherings and so on.

     We will designate clinics operated by Hospital Authority as focused first-line clinics to triage and to look after patients with flu symptoms, which mobilise our antiviral stockpile for treatment of patients, chemoprophylaxis of healthcare workers and essential service providers in the public sector.

     We will also consider vaccine administration when that is available.  We will also mobilise private sector, non-government organisations to increase medical surge capacity.

     And private enterprises can mobilise their business continuity plans.  It is important that at that time, everyone needs to have careful preparation for self care. And sick patients might need to stay home until their illness is over before they should wait for at least 24 hours before they go out.

     And of course, risk communication, and through the media support, to different community sectors will be very important.

     As schools are particularly important case to consider, as young children are particularly susceptible to flu transmission.  School outbreaks are common from North America experience.

     The flu spread, as with most other respiratory viruses, is particularly important in young children.  Clinical severity of the flu on young people also remains yet uncertain.

     As a prudent measure, when the first local (human swine) flu case occurs, we will consider all primary schools, kindergartens, nurseries and other pre-schools will be closed for up to 14 days in the first instance and to be reviewed as appropriate.  Our young children are actually more at risk to the flu and should be the first to enter social distancing.

     There are also concerns about our overseas students coming back to Hong Kong for summer break.  My advice to them is that if they do not feel well or are feeling sick, do not take the plane, defer your flight.  If you develop fever on the plane, tell the aircrew so that our port health officials would take care of them at the gate upon arrival.  If you are ill after returning Hong Kong, make sure you wear a mask and see your family doctor.

     The choice of public health measures depends much on severity of our local epidemic.  If the local epidemic is severe, more aggressive measures are warranted.  If epidemic is mild, the measures required may likely be those taken to address ordinary seasonal flu.  It is important to bear in mind that even seasonal influenza claims some 1,000 lives each year in Hong Kong.

     Uncertainties are likely during early stages, severity of illness among different population groups may be different.  Besides, community expectations are important to consider.  Our strategy is not cast in stone but serves as a general guidance. Measures can be fine-tuned as more knowledge is gained about the properties of the local epidemic.

     I will first ask Professor Yuen Kwok-yung to talk about the new knowledge that is gained in the last twelve days, and then Dr Tsang to talk about the strategy regarding the definition of contacts and examples of how to handle them when they have index patient in those places.  Thank you.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion.)

Ends/Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Issued at HKT 19:43


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