Lessons from SARS help Hong Kong cope with Covid-19

Lessons from SARS help Hong Kong cope with Covid-19 3

Lessons from SARS help Hong Kong cope with Covid-19

Hong Kong was heavily affected by the SARS epidemic 17 years ago.

`Almost everyone here has experience responding to epidemics. They also know clearly about its consequences,` said Keiji Fukuda, an American infectious disease expert and assistant director general of WHO, specializing in

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, many countries, including the US, will need to learn a similar approach, according to Fukuda.

Two women wear face masks in Hong Kong on March 25, 2003 during the SARS outbreak.

The Hong Kong government soon recognized the risk after receiving the first information about infections in Wuhan city, capital of mainland China’s Hubei province, and issued a warning from January 4.

Fukuda, currently head of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, said the city viewed nCoV as a serious threat because many people here are accustomed to living in fear of infectious diseases.

`It’s quite common in Hong Kong that people always wear masks when going out, even when there’s no epidemic, because they’re worried about getting sick and don’t want to infect others,` Fukuda said.

Habits that help control epidemics are quite familiar to many people in Hong Kong.

`I think those are the things the US and many countries can learn from the Hong Kong special zone, but applying it may be very difficult for them,` Fukuda commented.

Hong Kong has invested to improve the health system after the SARS epidemic, invested in new anti-epidemic measures and built a large program on infectious disease prevention at the University of Hong Kong, according to Fukuda.

The investigation into the SARS epidemic in 2004 forced the then head of Hong Kong’s health department, Mr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, to resign.

After months of chaotic protests, Hong Kong leaders were ready to take strong measures early, such as announcing school closures from the end of January and recommending citizens maintain a safe distance from others.

According to Dr. Pak Leung-ho, head of the Center for Infectious Diseases in Hong Kong, with people’s awareness of wearing masks when going out and high vigilance, the number of nCoV infections in the city has not increased dramatically.

The world is adjusting to the new situation.

Fukuda also believes that the decision to blockade Wuhan is an important move by the Chinese government to prevent nCoV from spreading, but is skeptical about the effectiveness of this strategy when applied in Western countries.

`I can’t imagine how you could impose a lockdown on 50 million people in America,` he said.

In South Korea, where nearly 8,000 cases of nCoV infection are currently recorded, testing more than 10,000 people per day is now considered normal.

Meanwhile, the US is also having problems with testing.

`They are losing a lot of precious time that cannot be compensated for. You cannot get back the 6 weeks the US was late in responding to the epidemic,` he said.

Hong Kong is not the only place that introduced strong response measures early on.

`Singapore publicly discloses all cases and publishes detailed, near real-time epidemiological investigations,` assessed Jennifer Nuzzo, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Lessons from SARS help Hong Kong cope with Covid-19

All passengers wore masks on the subway in Hong Kong on January 25.

However, facing a new epidemic like Covid-19, the Hong Kong government still cannot avoid confusion and shortcomings.

Fukuda said that it is difficult to compare the actions of a city of 7 million people with America, a country of more than 300 million people.

`The United States is said to have two of the most powerful health organizations in the world, but their operating budgets fluctuate up and down,` Fukuda said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He added that it is unclear which of these two agencies is responsible for leading the Covid-19 response campaign and who will pay for anti-epidemic measures, including testing costs.

`Covid-19 can spread much faster than the US can react,` he said.

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