HK's success against sars offers useful lessons

Updated: 2014-11-04 07:51

By Agence France-Presse(China Daily)

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The SARS outbreak of 2003 put Hong Kong on the front line of a global health crisis - and the city's ultimately successful war on the virus offers lessons for those now battling Ebola.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome infected 1,800 people and claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong. Panic spread, emptying usually busy streets and causing the property market to dive.

But swift moves to quarantine at-risk residents brought the outbreak under control. It transformed long-term attitudes about disease and streamlined the city's alert and response systems.

Eleven years later, the legacy of SARS can still be seen every day in Hong Kong. Many residents don surgical masks at the first signs of a common cold. Disinfectant dispensers are dotted around buildings, and signs next to elevator buttons boast of hourly sterilization.

"All this came about after SARS," said Nelson Lee, head of infectious diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"At the time of SARS, Hong Kong had very few isolation facilities - and, in general, the medical profession was not aware of the importance of infectious diseases. We have come a long way."

Hong Kong hospitals now feature emergency isolation rooms, while travelers must pass through temperature scanners at the borders.

Experts say the experience of dealing with these viruses puts Asia in a generally good position should it face an outbreak of Ebola.

Quarantine drills have been held from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong to Singapore and the Philippines, while many Asian countries have tightened airport screening processes.

Citizens of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need a visa to enter Singapore, the city-state's health ministry said on Monday.

(China Daily 11/04/2014 page3)