Legco condemns Margaret Chan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 July, 2004, 12:00am

Political parties are united in censure of former director of health over Sars crisis

Legislators last night voted to 'condemn' former director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun for her handling of the Sars crisis and for missing opportunities that could have spared the city a crippling outbreak.

A motion of censure was passed by 35 votes to none, with one abstention.

Dr Chan, now a senior World Health Organisation official, was criticised in the report of Legco's Sars inquiry for failing to attach enough importance to 'soft intelligence' on the outbreak of Sars in Guangdong early last year.

The former director of health should have explored 'other avenues' to obtain more information on the Guangdong outbreak, the report said.

But Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen defended Dr Chan, saying she had done 'her level best' and 'had made many contributions to public health'.

He said the Legco select committee's criticism of Dr Chan revolved around the development of the outbreak on the mainland.

Dr Chan has so far issued just one statement from WHO headquarters in Geneva, where she is now the director for the protection of the human environment.

'No matter the comments on me personally, I would respect the Legco findings as long as they are unbiased and based on the facts. I also appeal to Legco to make all my evidence public for the community to make judgment,' it read.

Condemnation came from across the political spectrum.

Democratic Party leader Yeung Sum said Dr Chan should be condemned even though she had retired from the government. 'Dr Margaret Chan did not do a good enough job. Under the law, she was responsible for implementing all measures to control infectious diseases but she did not do her job properly,' Dr Yeung said.

He said that after WHO coined the word 'Sars' on March 15, Dr Chan did not immediately include it in the list of notifiable infectious diseases.

Tang Siu-tong, of the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, said Dr Chan was responsible for 'losing the first line of defence' in late 2002 when she did not send a team to Guangdong to check on the outbreak of what was then called atypical pneumonia.

She missed 'the second line of defence' by failing to implement cross-border temperature screening until mid-April last year.

Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, of the Liberal Party, did not refer to Dr Chan by name in a speech praising Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong, who resigned on Wednesday over his handling of Sars.

'The director of health enjoys a lot of statutory power. Dr Yeoh happened to be the boss of this director. If she did not do her job, did not measure up to our expectations, then the secretary would be held responsible,' Mrs Chow said.

Meanwhile, The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing said she was outraged that legislator Lo Wing-lok had sent doctors a letter containing the report's major findings before its release. She said the legislature should consider in its next session how to penalise members who broke confidentiality rules.