Hong Kong installs detection systems as WHO declares Ebola a global problem

Detection systems installed at Hong Kong's borders as epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 in Africa is declared international emergency

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 11:16pm

The World Health Organisation yesterday declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa an international public health emergency needing a coordinated global response.

The outbreak has killed 961 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since it was first reported in March.

Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the risk of the city being affected remained low, but it has stepped up precautions, such as installing detection systems at hospitals and border crossings.

Beijing announced a donation of 30 million yuan (HK$37 million) worth of medical equipment, such as protective clothing, monitoring devices and drugs, to the Ebola-hit areas.

"This is the largest, most severe and the most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of this disease," said the WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun.

Similar emergencies were declared for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.

CHP Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung said the latest declaration did not imply the city was in danger.

"Although the risk of the city being hit by Ebola remains low, the risk still exists," he said at a press conference yesterday. "Hong Kong is already prepared for any imported cases."

More than 10,000 travellers arrive from the four countries every year. All would be placed under closer health surveillance upon arrival, and leaflets would be handed out at entry points, he said.

In the event of an Ebola case being identified, all those in close contact with the patient would be put in quarantine and banned from departing the city under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, Leung said.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung agreed the risk for Hong Kong remained low, but he urged the government not to overlook the danger of the virus entering the city from the mainland.

He said it was possible for the African population in Guangzhou to carry the disease into Hong Kong.

Comparing Ebola with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong in 2003, Yuen said Ebola, though less infectious, appeared to be more deadly.

Nationally, the process to develop an Ebola antibody would begin soon, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission's Wang Chen.

The WHO is also convening a panel of medical ethicists next week to explore the use of experimental treatments for Ebola after an experimental antibody cocktail developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical was used to treat two infected American health workers.

The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. There is currently no approved cure or vaccine.