Cheung Chau ferry passengers dip 9 per cent amid dengue fever outbreak on Hong Kong tourist island
New World First Ferry says number of travellers down in last two weeks, and residents gripe that government response to outbreak has been inadequate
Residents of Hong Kong’s outlying island of Cheung Chau have hit out at health officials over their response to an outbreak of dengue fever, after a ferry company revealed the number of travellers to the tourist spot fell 9 per cent this month.
The criticism came as local schools stepped up efforts to tackle mosquitoes ahead of children returning next week for the new semester.
Hong Kong has seen 26 patients confirmed as suffering from dengue since August 14. Nine are thought to have contracted the illness on Cheung Chau, according to the government’s Centre for Health Protection. The numbers are the highest since 2002.
New World First Ferry, which runs the main service to the island from the downtown district of Central, said average daily passenger numbers had sunk from 26,000 early this month to 23,700 in the past two weeks.
“Business has decreased by 80 to 90 per cent,” local shopkeeper Peter Co said.
Dengue fever commonly occurs in tropical and subtropical regions. In Hong Kong, hot summers are accompanied by heavy rainfall, which provides favourable conditions for mosquito breeding.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has been fogging for mosquitoes in Cheung Chau every other day at locations where the infected patients live or visited. The operation will last more than a month.
“They needed to do it before this disease came out ... not after it came out,” said Kelvin Wong, 55, a shopkeeper at a store called For Tau Fuk Sing near the island’s public pier.
His business used to take HK$8,000 a day, but that figure was down to about HK$1,000 since news of the outbreak.
“I don’t care about business dropping. Maybe later I can make up for it. The main fear is that the government may make things worse, causing people to worry,” Wong said.
Tung Wan beach, the island’s main swimming spot, was empty on Monday despite children still being on school holiday.
Li Ka-kit, a Hongkonger who said he usually made trips to Cheung Chau for short breaks every two months, was not satisfied with the response to the outbreak.
“The government should carry out mosquito prevention on a regular basis, not only in Cheung Chau, but also around the whole of Hong Kong,” Li said.
Schools on the island were doing just that on Monday. Cheung Chau Sacred Heart School, Kwok Man School, Cheung Chau Government Secondary School and Lui Kwan Pok Lutheran Day Nursery all said they had implemented additional measures to tackle mosquitoes, and were well prepared for pupils returning next Monday.
“We are calm here,” Wong Yuk-han, principal of Sacred Heart, said. “It’s not really a big problem.”
At Cheung Chau Government Secondary, a special team had been set up to carry out more frequent checks of campus hygiene, principal Chin Yiu-ming said.
Students will be allowed to wear sports jackets and trousers instead of shorts and skirts. They would also have physical education classes indoors and have their temperature taken on arriving at school, Chin added. Mosquito repellent will be on hand for those requesting it.
At Lui Kwan Pok Lutheran Day Nursery, staff have been assigned to check students for mosquito bites every morning.
“For these few days I think we have to take extra steps to control the situation,” Chin said.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officers were in Cheung Chau on Monday to check hygiene conditions at nine schools and to ensure mosquito prevention had been done properly. They will visit three more schools on Tuesday.