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Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 08:49
New virus to be a ‘long-term battle’
By He Shusi and Shadow Li in Hong Kong
Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 08:49 By He Shusi and Shadow Li in Hong Kong

Hong Kong should prepare itself for a long-term battle against the novel coronavirus until a vaccine or specialized drugs are available, with the disease having spread to more than 100 countries and regions, including places with hot weather that are thought to be able to suppress it, medical experts said on Monday.  

The warning came after the SAR recorded at least nine new cases in the past week linked to overseas travel. The patients or their close contacts had visited countries like India, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico and the United States during their incubation periods. 

The government should constantly review epidemics overseas, especially in developing countries, such as India, which six confirmed coronavirus cases in Hong Kong have been linked to

David Hui Shu-cheong, member of the government’s anti-epidemic team

As of Monday, the number of patients still under treatment outside of China had reached 25,000, compared with about 19,000 on the Chinese mainland. 

Leading Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, who’s one of the government’s advisers on epidemic control, said the challenge facing the city is to prevent cases from being imported from abroad, not from the mainland. It’s increasingly difficult to cut the global transmission chains as the virus has been spreading across the world, he said. 

The SARS virus, a close relative of the COVID-19 virus, was brought under control in China in 2003 with the arrival of summer when the pathogen became less active under higher temperatures.

But with the coronavirus, even when Hong Kong enters summer, countries in the Southern Hemisphere will have winter at the same time. This could spark another outbreak, with the possibility of it spreading elsewhere, Yuen said in a radio interview. 

Yuen believes the current epidemic will be brought under control after vaccines or specialized drugs are available, or 70 percent of the population are infected and develop an immunity against the virus. 

Developing vaccines or specialized medicine could take one or two years, he said, adding the government should consider requesting people arriving from affected areas to provide a health certificate, or complete a 14-day quarantine before entering Hong Kong if the situation continues to worsen. 

David Hui Shu-cheong — another member of the government’s anti-epidemic team — said the government should constantly review epidemics overseas, especially in developing countries, such as India, which six confirmed coronavirus cases in Hong Kong have been linked to.  

Limited medical resources in those countries can result in inaccurate statistics on the actual number of people infected, said Hui, who’s a respiratory and infectious diseases professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 

He believes the government will also closely monitor the outbreaks in France and the UK, and implement further restrictions, such as imposing a mandatory quarantine on people arriving from the two countries. 

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, told a daily press briefing the government will closely follow experts’ advice, including those from the World Health Organization, and change strategies accordingly. 

If the situation doesn’t improve in the short term, one possible strategy is to treat the disease as a “serious flu”, she said. 

Hong Kong on Monday recorded one new confirmed case of the coronavirus, involving a 44-year-old driver of a 56-year-old patient of Indian origin, who visited multiple countries before returning Hong Kong and developing suspicious symptoms, according to the health authorities. 

The latest case brought the city’s tally to 115, including three deaths, with 59 patients having been discharged from hospitals. 

The driver had picked up his employer at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday and drove him to a doctor the following day. He later developed a fever.

Chuang urged drivers, especially cabbies, to remain vigilant and observe strict personal hygiene, including keeping their vehicles clean with the windows open, and washing their hands frequently.

Contact the writers at heshusi@chinadailyhk.com

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