The city's laboratories will be able to diagnose cases of a new virus within 48 hours after details of its DNA sequence were released, health officials said yesterday, adding that they hoped to develop a quicker test.
The new, unnamed coronavirus, part of the same group as severe acute respiratory syndrome and the common cold, has only affected two people worldwide so far, both in the Middle East. But city officials are taking precautions to pick up any cases of the disease in Hong Kong.
"British authorities have given out the new virus' DNA sequence. We expect our diagnosis results can be obtained in 48 hours. We hope we can develop a faster test," said Dr Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, controller of the Centre for Health Protection at a Hospital Authority board meeting yesterday.
Dr Liu Shao-haei, head of infection, emergency and contingency planning for the authority, said public and private doctors had been asked to report all acute respiratory cases that require hospital treatment, or involve unexplained lower respiratory infections, to the Centre for Health Protection.
Anyone suspected to be suffering the new virus will be sent to designated hospitals for treatment, rather than passing through accident and emergency departments.
Legislative amendments to include the novel coronavirus as a notifiable infectious disease will be gazetted today.
The two cases so far involved a 60-year-old man in Saudi Arabia who died, and a 49-year-old Qatari man who had recently visited Saudi Arabia. He was diagnosed in London in early September and is being treated.
Symptoms include fever, coughing and breathing difficulties. Millions of Muslims are due to visit Saudi Arabia for the haj pilgrimage next month, and Hong Kong hospitals will have translators on hand for languages such as Arabic, Indonesian and Malay.
As for treatment for the new virus, Professor Paul Chan Kay-sheung, a Chinese University microbiologist, said it was not known whether existing anti-viral drugs would work.