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LC Urgent Q2: Prevention and control of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

     Following is an urgent question by the Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):


     In South Korea, a spate of 20-odd infection cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has occurred recently. On the 26th of last month, a man who had come into contact with a confirmed patient of MERS in South Korea came to Hong Kong on a flight, and he then went from the airport to Huizhou in Guangdong Province via Sha Tau Kok by taking two cross-boundary coaches one after another. The mainland authorities subsequently confirmed that the man was a MERS patient. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) since the outbreak of the MERS epidemic in South Korea, whether the authorities have enhanced the mechanism for mutual notification and assistance with that country and other relevant countries regarding the MERS outbreak, so as to curb the spread of MERS in Hong Kong; if not, whether they will immediately do so;

(2) whether the authorities will immediately draw up a list of MERS-infected areas which Hong Kong people should avoid visiting; if so, of the details; if not, the circumstances under which they will consider drawing up such a list; and

(3) whether the authorities will immediately review if the existing public healthcare system (including the isolation wards, healthcare personnel, medical apparatus and drugs in various public hospitals, as well as isolation facilities for providing temporary accommodation to people suspected of being infected with MERS) is capable of coping with an outbreak of the MERS epidemic?



(1) Following the emergence of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic in some Middle East countries in 2012, an imported case has triggered an outbreak of the disease in Korea recently. The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has been keeping close liaison with the World Health Organization (WHO) and health authorities of the Mainland and Korea, etc. to obtain the latest information. We will continue to closely monitor the latest developments abroad and communicate with the WHO and health authorities of the Mainland and other neighbouring places so as to update our response strategy and health surveillance measures accordingly.

(2) The Government has been closely monitoring the MERS outbreak in the Middle East region and Korea. So far there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease taking place in the community. Having regard to the relevant risk assessment, we consider that it is not necessary at this stage to raise the relevant Alert Response Level.  Nevertheless, we convened an inter-departmental meeting this morning (June 3) to update relevant departments on the latest situation of MERS so that they could take preventive measures accordingly. Besides, reminders were issued urging travellers to take heed of personal, food and environmental hygiene and avoid visits to healthcare facilities with MERS patients. In particular, Hong Kong travellers to Korea should avoid unnecessary visit to the healthcare facilities in Seoul. Farms, barns and markets with camels should also be avoided. Hong Kong's medical institutions and personnel are advised to suspend all exchange or visit activities with healthcare facilities and personnel in Seoul.

(3) The Hospital Authority (HA) has formulated a comprehensive contingency plan for MERS. Measures taken include urging frontline healthcare personnel to heighten vigilance, report suspected cases timely and conduct examinations. In respect of protective equipment, the HA has kept over one million N95 masks and 30 million surgical masks, maintaining a contingency stockpile level sufficient for 90-day use. Besides, the HA monitors the utilisation of isolation wards regularly. As at June 1, 2015, the HA provided about 1 300 isolation beds in 630 isolation wards.

     The HA also maintains contact with the CHP. When a suspected case is detected, the subject person will be immediately referred to the Infectious Disease Centre in Princess Margaret Hospital for isolation and further tests. All hospital clusters will provide support when necessary. Moreover, the HA will update the information from time to time and maintain communication with its staff through its intranet. Under the contingency plan, each cluster has contingency measures for staff deployment and service provision which can be put into operation when required.

     Moreover, public hospitals have stepped up their infection control measures. These measures include requiring visitors to Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments and out-patient clinics to put on surgical masks; and requiring patients who have fever and influenza symptoms but without travel history to stay in the Influenza-like Illness Segregation Area in the A&E departments while waiting for consultation. Virus testing and isolation arrangements have also been stepped up. Patients who have fever and respiratory illness, and with history of travel to affected areas (including healthcare facilities in Seoul, Korea) in the past two to 14 days will be arranged for viral test and immediate isolation.

     On the other hand, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, the Government will implement quarantine arrangements on close contacts of cases of MERS in accordance with Part 5 of the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation (Cap 599A). Regarding local response to the first case of MERS exported from Korea to Mainland China, the Government converted the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department into a quarantine centre on May 29, 2015 for quarantine of asymptomatic close contacts. As at June 2, 2015, 19 close contacts in Hong Kong are being quarantined and they present no symptoms so far.

     The Administration will continue to monitor the latest developments and adopt appropriate measures for prevention, isolation and treatment to protect public health.

Ends/Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Issued at HKT 19:42


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