The meeting of the inter-departmental co-ordinating committee on the prevention and control of cholera aimed at managing a potential crisis, but ended up creating confusion and panic instead. Amid fears of a potential cholera outbreak, the public wants to know what the Government is doing to handle the situation. How is the Government going to tackle the source of the disease, both locally and overseas? What sort of medical advice is it giving locals? Should people call off their holidays to Thailand? Should seafood importers stop their orders until the situation becomes clearer? Does the Hospital Authority have sufficient medical staff, facilities and drugs to cope with a sudden outbreak? Perhaps health officials truly believed that the situation was not getting out of hand and that was why there was no sense of urgency to the outcome of the meeting. For instance, despite confirmation that Thailand is an obvious source of the disease - as shown by the 28 confirmed victims who were tourists there this month and the seven cases of locals who ate cockles imported from Thailand - the committee did not see the need to advise people to reconsider their holiday plans or impose a temporary ban on imports from the country. And instead of starting an immediate publicity campaign to educate the public about food hygiene and the symptoms of cholera, the committee is simply in the process of considering a new approach: producing radio and television announcements of public interest to promote public health awareness. A new video to advise travellers of the health precautions that need to be taken is expected to be ready for the Easter holidays, even though cholera, unlike the bird flu, is caused by a highly efficient bacterium, and an average of 600 Hong Kong tourists visit Thailand every day on group tours. To address the problem of source, the committee agreed that with immediate effect, a 'quarantine' system should be imposed so that all imported bivalve shellfish, except for those from the mainland, would be subject to sampling and testing. These will only be released for sale at retail level when proved fit for human consumption. The committee also agreed to enforce a strict health certification requirement for all imported seafood and step up surveillance and sampling of seafood at retail level. Their comprehensive plan was immediately challenged by importers who raised a series of questions about the 'quarantine' system: does the Government have sufficient storage to keep the tested shellfish, or should importers bear the responsibility instead? What happens if the shellfish die while in quarantine and will the Government consider compensation if that happens? From all the queries raised, it is quite obvious the committee does not have a well-thought-out plan. Until now, all the community has been told is that the problem can be contained because its main source is Thailand, not Hong Kong, and therefore there is no cause for panic. But given that Hong Kong is such a small place and people here highly mobile, are health officials acting responsibly by playing down the potential risk of a serious outbreak? The community obviously does not want to see a repeat of the mistakes made in the bird flu fiasco. Even though Hong Kong may not recognise the immediate threat of a cholera outbreak, officials need to come up with a co-ordinated strategy to address the issue. If the committee cannot do the job, it should go to a more senior level - the Health and Welfare Secretary owes the public a proper reply.