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Gabriel Leung (left), dean of faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, discusses the spread of the disease at a press conference on January 27. Photo: Edmond So

Coronavirus: top Hong Kong medical school chief questions government response to health crisis

  • University of Hong Kong dean suggests city’s leader should have acted sooner, and more decisively
  • Leung’s remarks come after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor buckled under pressure and closed more borders
A top medical expert in Hong Kong believes the government should have acted sooner and more decisively in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Gabriel Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of medicine, was speaking on Tuesday morning, as the city recorded its first death from the killer disease, which originated in Wuhan. A 39-year-old patient, who was being treated in Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung, died after sudden heart failure.

The city’s leader said all border crossings would be closed, except for the Shenzhen Bay joint checkpoint, Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and international airport, even as the city confirmed its first case of human-to-human coronavirus infection.

But her announcement, which came less than a week after Lam decided to close six relatively smaller checkpoints, stopped short of the total shutdown demanded by public hospital workers who vowed to escalate a strike they began on Monday.

More than 20,600 cases of coronavirus infection have been recorded around the world, with more than 20,400 such cases found in the mainland, and more than 400 deaths globally. There were also 15 confirmed cases in Hong Kong.

Coronavirus: top Hong Kong medical school flouts health guidelines

Leung said the measures marked a positive step taken by Lam, though he questioned if the government’s response had been timely, decisive and strong enough.

“Was it too late? If we are closing down the checkpoints, we should have done that in early January,” he said, during a radio show.

“Was it decisive enough? The best public health measures should be rolled out in one go, rather than being announced in stages, especially when the stages were just days apart.”

Leung noted that Lam had said Hong Kong people returning from Hubei must declare themselves as they enter the city, and then would be required to wear a smart wristband, and put under home surveillance.

“Can we have stronger measures to contain the disease? The health declaration was done on an honour system, but was it enough? Should we require everyone who entered the city to wear such wristbands?” he asked.

More than 140,000 people entered the city on Sunday. Among them, more than 122,000 were Hong Kong residents.

Leung urged the government to look into the city’s laws and new technology as soon as possible, so that stronger measures can be ready.

“Some medical experts are pessimistic, they think all we can do is just to mitigate the situation, not to roll out measures to contain it,” he said.

“I am not sure whether we are in the mitigation or containment stage, but I know we are not in an early containment stage, and even if measures may not be completely effective, we should be a few steps ahead.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Lam ‘should have acted faster, more decisively’