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World Health Organisation

Hong Kong won't follow World Health Organisation's Mers advice - and earns praise for it

Lawmakers welcome warning against South Korean trips, even though WHO issued no advice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 2:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 5:47pm

Hong Kong does not need to follow the World Health Organisation's lead when it comes to issuing travel warnings over Middle East respiratory syndrome as it is handling the Mers threat differently, lawmakers have heard.

Local authorities raised the city's response level to "serious" on June 8, while also issuing a health advisory against travel to South Korea. A day later, it issued a red travel alert, a more formal warning against non-essential journeys that made it easier to claim for cancelled trips. The WHO had said it would not advocate warnings against visiting South Korea or the Middle East.

The red alert will remain in effect for the next week or two, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said yesterday as he earned praise in the Legislative Council for the city's response.

Since the response level went up, the city had recorded 215 suspected cases and isolated them in hospital, Ko said. All but four of the patients had tested negative for Mers as of noon yesterday, with results for the rest pending.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported the death of yet another man, pushing up its Mers death toll to 16. Five new cases were detected, bringing the total to 150.

At a Legco meeting yesterday, lawmakers said the Hong Kong government should have clarified more promptly a false report on June 10 about a woman at a Tsing Yi clinic being confirmed with Mers, to prevent the public from panicking.

Ko replied: "In order to enhance transparency, the government is now updating the public over information about Mers twice a day.

"We would enhance the reporting on other platforms, such as over social media."

He also said that although the government had always made reference to WHO recommendations, "it is not necessary for us to listen to WHO orders every time, as in this case, which we have handled differently."

Several lawmakers agreed the government had tackled the Mers threat "rather well", except for a brief confusion over its advice against travelling to South Korea last week.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan hailed the health officials' good management of the situation. "I trust Ko more [in handling Mers] than the WHO," he said.

Civic Party legislator Kwok Ka-ki said he was glad the government had been a step ahead of the WHO in issuing a travel warning, but wished the government had announced an official travel warning from the start instead of a health advisory.

"Many people who had booked trips to South Korea were very confused on the first day," Kwok said.

Ko said the Department of Health had agreed with the Security Bureau, which issues official warnings, to include public health matters under the criteria of issuing travel alerts.