Health chief said Sars acronym was too similar to special administrative region There was a 12-day delay in adding Sars to the list of diseases for which people could be forced into quarantine because Hong Kong's health chief was opposed to calling the illness Sars and had doubts about its definition, a former health official said yesterday. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong was not happy that the name - coined by the World Health Organisation on March 15 - sounded like the acronym for the special administrative region, Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, the former director of health, told a Legco committee on Sars. Dr Yeoh had suggested the word 'acute' be dropped so that the disease would be known as 'SRS' - for severe respiratory syndrome, instead of Sars for severe acute respiratory syndrome. 'I had no arguments with him. I only said that there was no way for us to argue with the WHO.' Dr Chan said implementing quarantine and isolation orders in an infected area such as Hong Kong would have meant isolating a huge number of people. She said top-level deliberations by the Sars Steering Committee - chaired by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to guide the government's response to the outbreak - over the definition of Sars led to a 12-day delay in adding Sars to the list of quarantinable diseases. The quarantine ordinance was finally invoked on March 27 to include Sars. Dr Chan said if the WHO definition had been accepted immediately, the ordinance could have been in place on March 16 or 17. Her department had prepared public health measures by March 20, including the use of designated medical centres for Sars patients, school closures and border controls, to tackle the growing crisis. She said she was prepared to wait 'for two to three days' before asking for more powers. Dr Chan said there were opposing views within the steering committee, from one side calling for a 'step by step approach' in controlling the spread of Sars, to 'draconian measures' on the other. Dr Chan also revealed that Prince of Wales Hospital diagnosed an index patient for the outbreak at Amoy Gardens as having influenza. The patient was admitted to ward 8C on March 14 before being transferred to ward 8A. The patient was discharged on March 19, a fact that was not relayed to her department by the hospital. His name was also deleted from the list of patients provided by the Health Authority to the Department of Health for contact tracing. He stayed at his brother's flat in Amoy Gardens overnight and then went to Shenzhen. He was re-admitted to the hospital on March 22 and the department was notified the next day. Dr Chan said it was 'a mistake' that the patient was first discharged, particularly as ward 8A had already been identified as the source of the Sars outbreak.