Flu controls at HK borders will be scrapped soon, health official says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am

Influenza controls requiring passengers to make a health declaration at Hong Kong borders are expected to be scrapped in about two weeks, the director of health said.

The seven-month-old measure, which has used more than 60 million pieces of paper, has been widely regarded as redundant after Hong Kong stopped tracing infected people in June.

Dr Lam Ping-yan said that the department would meet mainland officials in a few days' time to discuss the plan for Hong Kong to abolish the measure.

When swine flu broke out in Hong Kong in May, the Centre for Health Protection started using information on health-declaration forms to trace passengers who had had close contact with infected patients.

'When we first started the measures in May with the mainland, we had an agreement that both sides do it together,' Lam said.

'The health declaration served its function at the beginning of the outbreak, but its function has become minimal since the swine flu has spread to become common in the community. We think it is time to shift the resources to other areas in flu prevention.' Lam said there would be a two-week period for Hong Kong to abolish the measure, after reaching a final agreement with the mainland.

He said time was needed to redeploy the 350-odd contracted staff who had been hired to work on the health-declarations project.

Lam said the declaration had had 'educational value' because it reminded travellers to stay alert about health issues.

Hong Kong and the mainland are among the last places in the world still using health declarations as a measure to prevent swine flu. Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, and formerly Hong Kong director of health, said earlier that Hong Kong should consider toning down its border control.

But mainland health minister Chen Zhu said in an interview with the Post in September that the mainland would continue its containment strategy in its fight against swine flu.

Lam said the mainland would continue the measure because the situation there was not the same as in Hong Kong and this called for a different strategy.

He said the Health Department would continue temperature checks at the borders. 'We will advise people with fever to seek medical help, although we will not detain them for health checks,' he said.

The health-declaration measure started at the airport on April 30, and extended to all borders in phases by May 7. The department collects about 300,000 forms each day at borders.

Dr Heston Kwong Kwok-wai, assistant director of health, said completed forms were disposed of three months after collection.

About 2.7 million forms are in government storage. Kwong said they remained confidential.

Paper mountain

The health declaration forms were introduced at the end of April

The number of forms now stored by the government: 2.7m