Outbreak of fear
The appearance of a mysterious virulent disease that no one knew how to
treat or stop from spreading gripped a terrified city, writes Sarah Monks
It was the run on white vinegar, alert for some time but for a different index case for the chain of outbreaks in crisis, civil society came to the fore.
disease – bird flu (the H5N1 virus). On February 17, 2003, bird flu claimed its first people died of the disease in 1997 – a 33- year-old man who had visited relatives in towards the end of March – spiking at more than 100 new patients per day on March 24 staff to helping children of Sars victims and planning activities that would speed Hong Kong’s state of readiness. An associate “It is a holocaust. It is a war with an microbiology at Chinese University warned vinegar to fumigate their homes. But by the on February 20: “We are not prepared for an epidemic.” With only a few isolation disaster I have ever seen,” said Sydney was flying off the shelves of supermarkets wards, he said: “You cannot create them in Development Council staged an extra trade show in July to make up for the disrupted unhappiness at the way mainland officials challenged suggestions by health chief Dr syndrome (Sars), the first severe infectious Yeoh that the disease had not spread to the went into high gear, aimed at “restoring disease to emerge in the 21st century and Guangdong. “We are worried that it is the beginning of an epidemic,” he said.
the world”. The plan eventually included countries or regions, with 8,098 cases and that the isolation and evacuation of Amoy Gardens Block E residents might have been Sars. By the end of August, the number of anti-viral drug ribavirin, used to treat the passenger flights was nearly back to pre- Sars levels. Hotel occupancy was up to 71 long-term side effects. A nervous populace per cent by early July. Retail sales reached their pre-outbreak levels by the end of July.
Kong would be treated like a “plague city” Hospital in Sha Tin all went on sick leave.
August low point as homebuyers looked for coronavirus identified as the cause of Sars infected 1,755 individuals, including 386 former dean of medicine, Chinese University was linked to wild civet cats, fear spread health-care workers. Of the 299 people who that household cats could carry the disease. died, eight were health-care workers. Hong and individual visits by mainland tourists.
Kong’s domestic economy was devastated.
streets and fear as it suffered its worst Kong with his wife to attend a relative’s officially declared over on June 23, when deserted as people avoided public places, the WHO removed the city from the list of 911 of the Metropole Hotel in Mong Kok.
stayed at home or spent their weekends in areas with recent local Sars transmission.
the crisis unfolded and what was learned.
The following day – five years ago today – outlying areas. April retail sales were down With relief came much soul-searching.
At the time, Sars was a terrifying mystery.
15.2 per cent from the previous year. The airport resembled a ghost town as visitor chief executive Tung Chee-hwa reported its Guangdong, a stance Beijing later changed.
severe pneumonia. He died on March 4.
May. Hotel occupancy rates collapsed from 79 per cent in March to 22 per cent in April caused the pneumonia-like disease, how it Guangdong’s fatal “atypical pneumonia” extraordinary service, hard work, attention infectious. There was no diagnostic test.
firmly held its ground. Despite disruption headlines, including final preparations for the war in Iraq and the proposed Article 23 response to the epidemic, particularly in Then the onslaught began in earnest.
the early phase. “Lessons must be learnt, welfare at the time, said on February 11 of On March 12, the South China Morning and there is much that needs to be done to that year: “We understand … that there Post ran a headline: “Ward isolated after and Business Strategy at the University of strengthen the public health function, to hospital staff fall ill with mysterious flu”.
improve the co-ordination of the different The article detailed the sudden illness of parts of the health sector, to provide clarity infections have been mild and there is no in roles and responsibilities and to improve need for people to worry and to panic.” Wales Hospital. Contact-tracing connected Guangzhou professor was identified as the time in non-Sars affected countries. Some report that at a time of crisis, Hong Kong Sars cases in Hong Kong: how the epidemic spread professional. “The experience gave Hong uncertainty about how Hong Kong fits into going should their offices be hit by Sars. a rapidly modernising China,” wrote chief executive officer Christine Loh Kung-wai.
along with mats soaked in disinfectant at included the ability to question authority, regular disinfection of lifts. Homes were aired and thoroughly cleaned with bleach.
Tomorrow How HK’s health
wearing of masks if unwell. Any unguarded sneeze or cough drew accusing looks.
A couple wear protective masks as fear grips Hong Kong during the Sars outbreak in
March 2003. The epidemic lasted for three months and infected 1,755. Photo: Robert Ng
Turbulent days from local rumour to international alert
January 2003
26 United Christian Hospital admits 15
allowed, for up to 10 days. In total, 1,262 people found in civet “cats”, Hong Kong suspends 23 Guangdong health officials produce an
4 The Guangzhou professor dies.
suspected Sars cases from seven households, are confined; 34 develop the disease.
internal report on cases of atypical pneumonia 10 Eleven health care staff go on sick leave from
11 Hong Kong and Guangdong agree on Sars-
28 The chief executive announces the setting up
in the province. Rumours of mystery killer Ward 8A at Prince of Wales Hospital. The ward is 27 The chief executive announces emergency
isolated but visitors are allowed in, wearing measures, among them a one-week closure of 12 The government starts releasing on a daily
management and control of the Sars outbreak.
basis the names of buildings with Sars patients February
12 Hong Kong authorities alert WHO of the
admitted to hospitals within the past 10 days.
10 Hong Kong media start reporting on
29 All arriving passengers required to fill out
15 Hong Kong’s disease prevention law is
11 The last Sars case is confirmed and reported.
14 Health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong says “this is
health forms. The WHO’s Dr Carlo Urbani, who 23 The WHO removes Hong Kong from its list of
officials unsuccessfully seek information from still not an outbreak”. The man who will become areas with recent local transmission of Sars, the index case for the Amoy Gardens outbreak international community, dies of the disease. 23 The government proposes a HK$11.8 billion
11 Beijing’s Ministry of Health informs WHO of
stays overnight at his brother’s flat in the 31 An isolation order is served on Block E of
300 cases of an acute respiratory syndrome in 24 Body temperature checks begin for transit
15 The WHO issues a rare emergency travel
fans attend the final of the Rugby Sevens.
and arriving passengers at the airport, and at 1 Forty-one Sars heroes are given awards in
13 The Hospital Authority begins notifying the
advisory in response to reported outbreaks in a chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s honours list.
director of health of suspected and confirmed number of countries, names the illness severe 28 Secondary 1 and 2 students resume classes.
acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and confirms 1 Government experts find evidence that
sewerage and drains might have been involved 2 The Sars Expert Committee reports its
17 A 33-year-old Hong Kong man dies of bird flu
17 Sydney Chung Sheung-chee, dean of
in the vertical spread of Sars in Amoy Gardens’ 3 Experts from the Chinese Medicine Hospital of
after visiting Fujian. His nine-year-old son is also medicine at Chinese University, tells media the Block E. Residents are evacuated to holiday Guangdong province arrive to advise on the use 17 Harbour Fest concerts begin at Tamar site,
government’s Sars numbers are leaving out camps to continue their 10-day quarantine. The of Chinese medicine in treating Sars patients.
ending with The Rolling Stones on November 9. 19 Hong Kong steps up public education on
eventual toll is 329 infected, with 42 deaths. 5 Chief secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is
22 The University of Hong Kong announces that
2 The WHO revises its advice to international
July 2004
21 A 64-year-old medical professor from
travellers, recommending postponing all but 7 Health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong resigns after
Guangzhou checks into the Metropole Hotel in essential travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong. being blamed in a Legco report for not being Mong Kok. He will become the index patient for 23 Hospital Authority chief executive William Ho
3 The government extends the suspension of
HK$1 billion is earmarked to promote Hong sufficiently alert when Guangdong was hit by the Sars outbreak in Hong Kong from where it Shiu-wei is admitted with Sars. He recovers and atypical pneumonia, and for sending confusing Health workers deliver food and supplies
10 The government announces that all
12 Students in Primary 4 and up resume classes.
22 The Guangzhou professor is admitted to
25 A high-level Sars steering committee,
to Amoy Gardens residents sealed inside
household contacts of confirmed Sars patients 23 The WHO lifts its travel advisory.
intensive care at Kwong Wah Hospital.
chaired by the chief executive, is established. under quarantine. Photo: Robert Ng
will be quarantined at home, with no visitors 24 After reports that the coronavirus has been
Sarah Monks

Source: http://www.nshk.org.hk/pdf/c_awards/2008/059.pdf


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