The Hong Kong government will increase surveillance for the Wuhan disease by requiring all those arriving by air from Wuhan to declare if they are unwell.
People on incoming flights from Wuhan will have to declare the state of their health from Tuesday, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the Secretary for Food and Health, said in a press conference on Monday.
Hong Kong’s hospitals and clinics will be required to report any pneumonia cases involving patients from Hubei province – not only Wuhan – to the Center for Health Protection (CHP), she said.
Chan Hon-yee, the director of the Department of Health, said the government would not request all incoming travelers to declare their health condition as such a move might lead to an operational problem and many people would be stuck at customs checkpoints. She said the government had been running fever checks at all customs checkpoints.
Because all those infected in Shenzhen, Beijing and other countries had visited Wuhan, it was enough to ask medical practitioners to report all pneumonia cases involving patients who had visited Hubei province, instead of all Chinese cities, she said.
If more confirmed cases were reported in the Chinese cities other than Wuhan, the CHP would broaden its coverage of suspected cases that needed to be reported, she said.
On January 16, the CHP said in a statement that medical practitioners are requested to report to the center if they encounter an individual with fever and acute respiratory illness, or pneumonia, and who had visited Wuhan or a medical hospital in the mainland or had close contact with an infected person, within 14 days.
Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, a pro-establishment lawmaker and the former political assistant to the Secretary for Food and Health, said the Hong Kong government should broaden its coverage of the suspected cases that needed to be reported as the appearance of confirmed cases in Shenzhen, Beijing and other countries showed that community outbreaks had probably happened outside Wuhan.
She said suspected cases with patients coming from all Chinese cities should be reported to the CHP.
Chan also urged the government to launch health declarations at all customs checkpoints as infected people could take antipyretics to suppress their fever and hide the infection.
She said the Hong Kong government should take the initiative to find the source of the Wuhan disease as new cases were reported as of January 18. She said people might be infected somewhere else, not at the Huanan Seafood Market, which had been closed for more than two weeks.
There was a high chance that the first confirmed case of Wuhan disease would be identified in Hong Kong soon due to the frequent flow of people between Hong Kong and the mainland, said Ho Pak-leung, the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection.
Ho said the Hong Kong government should launch health declarations at all the customs checkpoints immediately.
For the moment, Hong Kong still has no rapid diagnostic test for the Wuhan disease. Tony Ko Pat-sing, the chief executive of the Hospital Authority, said on Monday that the authority was still testing the protocols and trying to buy some reagents. He said it would take two to three weeks to launch a rapid diagnostic test.
In Hong Kong, the Centre for Health Protection announced on Sunday that it identified nine more suspected cases of “Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a Novel Infectious Agent,” pushing up the total number of suspected cases to 99 as of Sunday noon.
On Monday, a 35-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan was identified as the first case of the Wuhan disease in South Korea.