My Take

Is Hong Kong unprepared for the Ebola crisis?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 4:19am

The suspected case of Ebola in Hong Kong turned out to be a false alarm, though the person in question came from one of the affected countries and displayed symptoms similar to the deadly disease, like vomiting and diarrhoea. While that is a relief, what scares one is the way our health workers handled things.

Until the individual tested negative, they should have taken all precautions while handling the case, but that did not appear to have happened. The patient was first taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in an ambulance before being moved to the isolation ward in Princess Margaret Hospital. The health workers were also not equipped properly and the patient was initially allowed to move around freely, according to reports.

Ebola spread to Nigeria after a sick Liberian man travelled to the country. Most of the cases reported in that country involve health workers who came into contact with this man. Given that fact, health workers have to be trained and equipped properly even when handling suspected cases. Agreed, walking into a place like Chungking Mansions looking like a character out of the film The Hurt Locker would set off a panic, but surely it's better to be safe than sorry later.

It was not too long ago that our health authorities were roundly criticised for lack of foresight in initiating steps to prevent pandemics. That delay and the spread of Sars cost Hong Kong dearly. The Legislative Council later passed a motion condemning Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, then the city's director of health and now in her second term as head of the World Health Organisation, over the handling of the crisis.

Health Department officials say they have initiated preventive measures as advised by the WHO. But is the WHO really on top of the outbreak? On May 18, the UN body said it could be declared over within a few days. But last week it said it was now an international public health emergency.

Charities which have been battling the disease on the ground have been critical of authorities for not realising the magnitude of the problem earlier and submitting to political influence in not calling for stringent restrictions to be put in place. Now, have we heard that line in Hong Kong before?