Health law proposal targets private property

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2007, 12:00am

Under a proposal put forward by health authorities yesterday, the government will have the power to commandeer private property such as empty homes, vehicles and medicines to fight disease during a 'state of public health emergency'.

This provision is among amendments to the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance which Acting Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Patrick Nip Tak-kuen discussed with the Legislative Council's panel on health services.

The amendments are aimed at complying with the World Health Organisation's International Health Regulation. The regulation was adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2005 to 'provide a public health response to the international spread of disease', and will come into force in June.

Under the proposal, which also calls for the expanding of Hong Kong's list of notifiable diseases, the chief executive and the Executive Council will be empowered to declare a 'state of public health emergency' and commandeer private property, including vaccines, drugs, protective gear, vehicles, shipping containers and housing.

'If there is a major public health threat, the government may need some extreme or unusual power,' Mr Nip said. 'Such measures won't be implemented unless they are really necessary.'

To prevent the cross-boundary spread of diseases, the Health Department can require travellers entering Hong Kong to submit health declarations, have medical examinations or be ordered into quarantine.

The government also wants to increase the number of notifiable diseases from 32 to more than 40, by including diseases such as smallpox and anthrax. 'We plan to add smallpox and anthrax because of international fears they might be used in terrorist attacks,' said Centre for Health Protection controller Leung Pak-yin.

Most of the panel lawmakers supported the government's proposal to step up the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

However, they questioned whether the use of private property might contravene the Basic Law, which protects people's right to private property.

They urged the government to clarify the legitimacy of commandeering private property to avoid any challenges to the Basic Law.