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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong health chief defends decision to issue Zika-related travel alert for Singapore

Ko Wing-man says decision on issuing an alert depends on closeness of contacts with Hong Kong and the speed at which the outbreak appears

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 9:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 10:48am

Hong Kong authorities decided to issue a travel alert for Singapore because people from the two cities had frequent dealings with each other, health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said on Saturday.

There were 26 new cases of locally transmitted Zika in the city state, according to local authorities there, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 215.

One day after an amber travel warning for Singapore was issued, Ko defended the Hong Kong government’s decision against questions on why other countries or regions similarly affected by Zika were spared the same response.

An amber alert – the lowest in a three-tier system issued by the Security Bureau – means there are signs of a threat and that travellers should monitor the situation and exercise caution.

Last year, the bureau announced a “red” travel alert for South Korea, the second highest warning urging people to avoid non-essential travel, after the country suffered an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome. The red travel alert remained in place for nearly two months and was lifted in early August after the deadly disease was brought under control.

Ko said Hong Kong’s response level would depend on the situation – the closeness of contacts with Hong Kong and the speed at which the outbreak appeared.

“Singapore has seen more Zika cases and the people of Hong Kong and Singapore have frequent exchanges,” he said, stressing that travellers to the Lion City needed to be alerted.

But he reiterated that the alert issued by Hong Kong would be removed if the situation in Singapore stabilised.

“I hope the spread of the Zika virus in Singapore will be under control very soon,” he said.

While Hong Kong would strengthen measures to reduce the number of mosquitoes – Zika’s carrier – it would be difficult to ensure the city was totally free of infection, the health chief said.

“Given the humid subtropical climate, mosquitoes breed in Hong Kong and all we can do is to reduce transmission to a minimum,” Ko said.

The mosquito-borne virus can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect, manifesting in an underdeveloped brain and small head. Adults infected display flu-like symptoms such as mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis and muscle and joint pain.

The Hospital Authority announced on Friday that it would collaborate with the Centre for Health Protection to provide serology testing for targeted pregnant women to rule out Zika infection.