SFH on human swine flu

     Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a press conference last night (May 1):

Secretary for Food and Health: Today Hong Kong has confirmed the first imported case of human swine flu, which is recently labelled by the WHO as flu A (H1N1). A Mexican traveller, aged 25, came to Hong Kong on flight MU505, arriving at Hong Kong at 12.49pm yesterday from Shanghai. In Shanghai, he was only a transit passenger. He originally travelled from Mexico. The seat number he occupied is 23A. He took a taxi, together with other two passengers, and checked into Wan Chai Metro Park Hotel at around 2pm. The hotel room number is on the eleventh floor, the room number is 1103. Apparently, he did not leave the hotel because he was feeling sick. So at around 7pm, he wanted to go the hospital, and he arrived at the Ruttonjee Hospital at 8pm.

     The doctors checked him and labelled him as a suspected case of swine flu. The first test on flu test did not turn out to be positive. But with the specimen sent to the Department of Health this morning, it was discovered that through the rapid test that is recently developed by the Department of Health, that he is likely to have contracted the human swine flu.

     We have also sent the specimen to the laboratory to the Hong Kong University, which confirmed this is a human swine flu at 8pm this evening. Just now the Chief Executive has chaired the Emergency Response Level Steering Committee. And after discussion, we announced we are entering the emergency level of the pandemic plan.

     We have also exercised the authority by the Department of Health, using Cap 599 with the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, so that we will first isolate the hotel, and we use the same ordinance to ensure that the relevant people would be quarantined for seven days.

     We will also prescribe Tamiflu for them, which is proven to be effective prophylactic for this disease. We would like to appeal to the residents of this hotel, if they are not at the hotel right now, please contact the Centre for Health Protection, the telephone number is 2125 1111 so that we can actually look after them, and also give the relevant medicine to them.

     We are also tracing the people who travelled or the taxi drivers who took these patients from the airport to the hotel and also from the hotel to the hospital.

     We are also tracing the passengers, who are in same flight with this patient. We are tracing particularly the three rows in front and three rows behind, that is from row 20 to 26 of MU 505.

     We prepare to have them sent to the hospital for inspection and also for quarantine. We would ask the other passengers and the crew to reach us through the hotline so that we can have a health check on them. With this, I hope that we can minimise the spread of this possible virus in our community. We have also decided on a few other things. So within a day or two, the land border entrance will also require health declaration for everyone who is entering Hong Kong.

     We have also contacted the WHO, the Ministry of Health, and also the Health Bureau of Shanghai Municipality, and we have also informed the Consul General of Mexico regarding this particular case.

     We appeal to everyone, everyone in Hong Kong, particularly the public transport companies, the Housing Authority, Housing Society, any of the private premises, and all citizens, to protect themselves and make sure they are living in a clean environment and also looking after their personal health.

     We appeal to everyone not to travel when you are feeling unwell. And particularly, if you are travelling, please also acquire medical insurance because we cannot guarantee that you will be looked after when you are elsewhere.

     Since this is the first case in Hong Kong, we must be very careful, as the chance of controlling and containing this infection is limited. We try to be more draconian in our policy. We still do not know how damaging or how virulent this virus would be. And we would not like this to spread to the community, and we would also not like this to spread outside Hong Kong either. And that is the reason why we are adopting such a policy right now.

     As we have confirmed the case at 8 this evening, we made this decision within half an hour, so that we can act quickly. We shall also organise Lady MacLehose Holiday Village and also Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village, which will be ready by tomorrow so that we can use them as quarantine centre.

     I would like to talk to the residents of the Metro Park Hotel through the electronic media. If you are watching or listening, I hope you understand that we all care for your health and also the possibility of spreading the swine flu with your family, your friends and also the residents of the hotel. That is the reason why we would like to look after you carefully but of course it caused inconvenience to you. However if you cooperate and if you can look after yourself well, I am sure you will not catch the virus and stay healthy. So I hope you can cooperate with our health inspectors, our health officials. We shall try to give as much support to you as possible so that you can maintain healthy for the next seven days.

Reporter: What kinds of restrictions do you have inside the hotel? Are they allowed to go to the gym? Are they allowed to go to restaurants? Are they basically confined in the room? Also, how many people are there in the hotel?

Secretary for Food and Health: This patient travelled with two other companions. I am not sure whether they stay in the same room or not because they are close contacts. He also met another local friend. So, in other words, we have identified three close contacts and all these three close contacts are now actually being quarantined in the Princess Margaret Hospital. Regarding the restrictions in the hotel, I leave it to the Director of Health to answer. Basically, I think we would not like them to get in contact with anyone outside the hotel and whether they can move freely or with some restrictions, I will leave it to the Director. But the principle is to try to minimise contacts with anybody. So, we hope that even though they are staying in their hotel rooms, they need to find some way of passing the next seven days. We shall look after all the essential needs that they require.

Director of Health, Dr Lam Ping-yan: Actually, what we are now doing is that I have just served an order for the hotel to be isolated, meaning that nobody can enter or leave the hotel without permission from a health officer. What we are now doing is we will be serving individual residents of the hotel an order to be quarantined. They are placed under medical quarantine. Hotel staff are also put under quarantine. Concurrently, we have asked the assistance of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to undertake disinfection of the environment of the hotel, common utility areas and also toilets and so on so that the chances of contamination in the common areas would be probably sanitised. We will strongly advise them to maintain very stringent personal hygiene such as frequent use of alcohol rub and so on. If they have symptoms, they are required to report to us immediately so that we can attend to them and send them to hospital for treatment if necessary.

Secretary for Food and Health: Let me add a bit more. We will set up a help desk in the hotel with health officials and other department officials including Home Affairs Department staff to look after their needs. We are mobilising our clinical psychologists to go to the hotel in case they need any counseling or any particular support. We shall have all the essential facilities and also the materials as required. Particularly, all the health care workers will be looking after them if they have any symptoms. We shall look at them everyday and see whether they develop any symptoms. If they do, then we have to move them to hospital for further isolation.

Reporter: How many hotel guests have actually checked out of the hotel during this period of time? What about the family members of the staff who work there?

Secretary for Food and Health: The quarantine will involve all the hotel guests. We do not have exact number. We know there are 173 rooms. We are collecting the exact name and the list right now. We expect there will be about 200 residents in the hotel. As far as staff is concerned, we are also told by the hotel management that there are about 100 staff.

Reporter: What about family members? Are you keeping a close eye on the family members as well?

Secretary for Food and Health: We do not have the details at the moment but our staff from the Department of Health is actually doing a collection of data down there right now.

Director of Health: I think you are worried about the family members of the staff. The staff, as I can understand, contacts of contacts are not considered at risk. If anyone of those staff who develop symptoms, and probably we need to trace their family members as well. But if they are not symptomatic, just contacts with the index case, then contacts of contacts are not considered at risk.

Reporter: Why takes such a long time to make this announcement?

Secretary for Food and Health: As you know that, we cannot take action unless we have a confirmed case. As I have said earlier on, since our quick test from both the Department of Health and also the University of Hong Kong, we only develop a new test, so we must be very careful about what decisions we undertake. At the present time, we have already alerted the Chief Executive and also the members of the Steering Committee. That is why we actually met earlier than our confirmed time so that we can make a quick decision once that is confirmed.

Reporter: What about the staff who were not on duty at the time you quarantine but had been on duty for the past 24 hours? Are you asking them to call the hotline? If they do, are you going to ask them to move in the hotel as well and stay there for the next seven days?

Director of Health: For those who have not been in contact with the hotel since their arrival of this patient, probably they do not need to be quarantined. But of course, if they have any problems or questions, they should feel free to call our hotline or even call the hotel. We have staff stationed there to answer their questions.

Reporter: (inaudible)

Secretary for Food and Health: The hotel has about 200 residents and about 100 staff, so they may not have enough rooms for us to accommodate all staff in the hotel. So, the next step will be after the initial investigations, some of the staff will be handed to one of these holiday camps for quarantine.

Reporter: (Ruttonjee Hospital)

Chief Executive of Hospital Authority, Mr Shane Soloman: When the patient arrived in the emergency department, he was immediately triaged into the isolation area which has all the proper gowning and then the patient was admitted to the isolation ward. I have also spoken to the chief executive of the hospital to make sure all of the staff involved were in the necessary protective gears where they work.

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

Ends/Saturday, May 2, 2009
Issued at HKT 01:46