Hong Kong flu outbreak calls for greater preparation
The right decision has been made to close primary schools and kindergartens before the holiday, but earlier use of vaccines would have proved beneficial
The government has made the right call to bring forward the Lunar New Year holiday for primary schools and kindergartens to today, in an attempt to stem the city’s serious winter flu outbreak.
This is despite considerable inconvenience, such as the very short notice given to parents and teachers and the disruption to preparations for exams at some schools after the holiday.
The severity of the outbreak, and the danger that it might snowball into and beyond the new year holiday through contagion in crowded schools, justifies the closure announced yesterday by the Centre for Health Protection.
The decision may have appeared overdue and somewhat hurried, given that the current epidemic has laid hundreds of students low over a period of weeks now. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor acted after being briefed on Tuesday on the latest developments by top-level specialists in microbiology and respiratory medicine, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung at the University of Hong Kong and Dr David Hui Shu-cheong at Chinese University, respectively.
That global seasonal flu continues to set challenges for public health systems and the pharmaceutical industry is worrying enough.
Also of concern in Hong Kong, however, is an unreliable supply of flu vaccine for hospitals and medicine to meet the demands of parents, with the centre saying its stocks may run out in two to three weeks.
On Tuesday, the Post called five clinics of a major private medical group without being able to locate supplies.
Vaccine had in fact been available for months. Complacency until now led to the failure of supplies meeting peak demand.
Parents of young pupils in particular need to plan in advance and the government should reallocate resources and educate people on the need to get the vaccine earlier.
With a severe outbreak around the world putting strain on the capacity of the pharmaceutical industry to maintain adequate supplies, it is a bit late to start thinking about vaccinations now, though it is better than never.
It is good therefore to hear Lam promise the government will come up with a plan to minimise the impact of flu ahead of another expected outbreak this summer. “We need to be prepared,” she said.