City-wide drill to test readiness for a flu pandemic

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2007, 12:00am

A city-wide pandemic preparedness drill will be held today to test the emergency response to a community-acquired flu involving boys 'falling sick' in Fanling.

Code-named Operation Chestnut, it is the first such exercise this year and comes after Operation Cypress last September in which two members of a Hong Kong tour group 'got sick' from H5N1 bird flu while overseas.

Today's one-day scenario involves several boys who are found infected and sent to hospitals via ambulances. Their close contacts are to be transported to holiday villas for isolation and a separate quarantine centre is to be activated.

Field investigations, management of patients and admission and treatment procedures at the newly commissioned Infectious Disease Centre and the Major Incident Control Centre in Princess Margaret Hospital will be tested.

Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, announced today's drill before a group of visiting US and Asian journalists attending a fellowship tour on infectious diseases.

'The pandemic preparedness plan covers the whole government. It is very complicated as there are so many parties involved,' he said.

'Getting them on the same table and having all the co-ordination work is a very big challenge. That is why you need regular exercises and drills.'

Observers from the Ministry of Health, Guangdong and Macau have been invited to give feedback and comments, he said.

The exercise will focus on frontline response as well as interdepartmental communication and co-ordination. About 250 participants from 12 government bureaus, departments and organisations and an NGO will take part.

Hong Kong has had three drills to test elements of its flu pandemic plan: an interdepartmental communication exercise called Exercise Poplar in November 2005; Exercise Maple in November 2004; and Exercise Flamingo organised by the Hospital Authority, also in November 2005.

Meanwhile, French vaccine maker Sanofi pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi-aventis Group, announced data showing that a new investigational H5N1 pandemic influenza vaccine achieved a high immune response at the lowest dose of H5N1 antigen reported to date.

The company said: 'Once fully developed, this vaccine should give Sanofi pasteur the potential to provide billions of doses in a pandemic situation, and greatly increases its ability to produce vaccines for stockpiling in advance of a pandemic.'

Sanofi pasteur's H5N1 vaccine became the first licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration for humans against bird flu.