Six years on, painful memories revived

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am

As the world races to stop the spread of swine flu, the families of victims of the city's 2003 Sars outbreak have mixed feelings about the deadly new virus.

'Of course I'm scared. [Health chief] York Chow Yat-ngok coming out and saying that it is fine to eat pork is a throwback to Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun [former director of health] saying that she ate chickens every day back in [the H5N1 bird flu outbreak] in 1997,' said Sit Pui-yu, whose 80-year-old mother died of severe acute respiratory syndrome. 'If it turns out that you can contract the disease by eating pork, only beheading him would do the victims justice.'

Mr Sit's mother died on May 19, 2003, after being admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital with breathing difficulties. He was convinced she had contracted Sars in hospital, but her death certificate did not list Sars as the cause of death.

To this day, he harbours a deep resentment towards the government's health officials and policies.

'If York Chow has a conscience, he should step up cross-border inspections,' Mr Sit said.

'With a disease outbreak like this, I will think about [my mother] and be very unhappy. Those who died from Sars have gone. But Hong Kong should not repeat its mistakes. I am also very worried about the pigs coming from the mainland. The mainland tends to cover up its maladies. We could have carriers of the disease coming into Hong Kong without our knowledge.'

Other people were more ambivalent, saying the government had learned its lesson when it came to controlling epidemics.

'This time around, I am not too worried. It has been six years [since Sars], a long time,' said Eric Lau Yun-sum, whose elderly mother died of the disease in 2003.

'In the past two days, I have felt that the government has learned its lesson and has really got things going. Since the epidemic is all the way over in Mexico, I believe the government will have enough time to enforce precautionary measures. Back in the Sars period, there wasn't sufficient time and everything was a mess.'

Mr Lau's mother was admitted to North District Hospital on May 22, 2003, with stomach bleeding. She developed a fever six days later, but the hospital took almost two weeks to properly diagnose his mother as a Sars carrier. She died on June 4.

'I still can't bring myself to visit hospitals,' Mr Lau said. 'Even when relatives are admitted to hospital, I will only send my condolences.'