Kim, a 44-year-old South Korean with Mers, is being treated in Huizhou. Photo: KBS
Visitors to Hong Kong would be asked to sign a health assessment form to confirm they are providing genuine information amid a Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) scare sparked by a Korean traveller accused of lying about his condition.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the new measures would be introduced after the 44-year-old Korean man, who is the first confirmed Mers case in China, denied hiding details of his health from officials at Hong Kong airport when arrived in the city last week.
“After the assessment, we would remind visitors they would violate the law if providing false information. They have to sign to confirm the details,” Ko said.
In the meantime, visitors with fever would be stopped by port health officers to check their medical history, asked whether they had visited Mers-affected regions or contacted any Mers patients. If visitors with respiratory symptoms had been to any affected areas, they would be sent to hospital for treatment.
The Korean man, has denied lying about his condition to health officers when he arrived at Hong Kong International Airport last week.
The man, surnamed Kim, told South Korean television station KBS that officials only asked if he had any flu symptoms and if he had gone to hospital recently. He said he was not asked if he had Mers.
Kim remains in isolation at a hospital in Huizhou with fever, according to Guangdong health authorities.
The patient ignored doctors’ advice to stay at home and flew from Seoul to Hong Kong last Tuesday with the deadly virus. He then travelled to Huizhou by coach.
Kim said that a clinic near his residence in Gyeonggi-do asked him to go for a medical examination after his father was confirmed to have contracted Mers on May 21.
But he said he did not go, as while he was asked to conduct the check in a hospital in Seoul, he was not explained the seriousness of the virus.
“I asked the clinic if it was possible to be treated nearby, but the clinic staff told me to get treatment at a hospital in Seoul, in a way that made it seems like they didn’t want to take responsibility,” Kim said.
In response, an official from the Gyeonggi-do public health clinic said there was not much public information about Mers at the time and they did not provide treatment for the disease.
Earlier, Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that visitors should fill in health declaration forms to solve the problem of language barriers. Dr Louis Shih Tai-cho, president of the Medical Association, agreed it is necessary to do so and enhance the current mechanism at the airport.
“I believe his decision is based on the advice of infectious disease experts. I agree with his decision,” Shih said. “Doctors can easily post their papers and exchange ideas on electronic platforms.”
Ko meanwhile, also said the Hong Kong government would seek assistance from the World Health Organisation, as the Korean government had failed to provide it with the latest information about the spread of Mers within that country.
“We still do not know which medical institutions have been involved. There is a lack of transparency with the information and it is worrying,” Ko said.
While information remains unclear, Ko announced that representatives from the Food and Health Bureau and the Hospital Authority will not attend two upcoming professional seminars scheduled to be held in Seoul. He also advised health care workers to suspend all exchange trips to South Korea.
Health workers cover their faces with masks at the hospital in Huizhou where Kim is being treated. Photo: Xinhua
The Hong Kong government has so far traced 29 close contacts and 27 other contacts of the 44-year-old Korean. Some 19 of the close contacts are under quarantine in the city now.
One of them, a 32-year-old man from South Korea, is one of the 29 people who sat within two rows of Kim on a Hong Kong-bound Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul.
After arriving in Hong Kong the man entered mainland China through the Lok Ma Chau border. From Guangzhou he flew back to South Korea three days later and then returned to Hong Kong, where he was intercepted by immigration officials at Chek Lap Kok airport.
Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Leung Ting-hung said yesterday the man was in isolation and showed no symptoms, so any passengers who had sat near him should be safe.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong doctor aged in his 30s tested negative for Mers after returning from a clinical attachment in South Korea with a runny nose.
Elsewhere, the number of Hongkongers signing up for package tours to Seoul has dropped significantly in the past few days.
Joseph Tung Yiu-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said 30 per cent fewer people had joined tours to the South Korean capital – a popular destination for Hongkongers – compared with the same period last year.
If the situation deteriorates, Tung believed the number of people going there would further decrease and instead they would turn to Japan, thanks to the appreciation of the Hong Kong dollar against the yen, or Taiwan.
“It’s understandable Hongkongers are not signing up for tours [to Seoul] when we all don’t know how it will develop,” Tung said. “All we can do now is wait.”
South Korea’s health ministry confirmed this morning that two people have died from Mers, the country’s first fatalities from the virus. Some 25 people have now been diagnosed with the virus.
First identified in humans in 2012, Mers is caused by a coronavirus, from the same family as the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Hong Kong in 2003. There is no cure or vaccine. The fatality rate for Mers is 30 to 40 per cent – much higher than the 10 per cent in Sars, and its incubation period is two to 14 days.
Elizabeth Cheung, Lai Ying-kit, Christy Choi, Timmy Sung
May 26: A 44-year-old man, whose 76-year-old father and elder sister were infected by Mers in South Korea, arrives at Hong Kong on a flight from Seoul. He is intercepted by a nurse at an airport inspection point as he had a fever, but is allowed to go after he denies having contact with Mers patients or visiting Mers-hit areas. The man takes a bus across the border to Huizhou the same day.
May 27: China is notified by South Korean health officials that a suspected Mers patient has left for the country.
May 28: The Korean man is found by mainland Chinese authorities and isolated.
May 29: Mainland authorities confirm the man has Mers. Hong Kong authorities locate 29 people who have been in close contact with the man; 11 of them are no longer in Hong Kong. Sixteen of the 18 people still in Hong Kong are put in quarantine. Two South Korean women refuse and remain at large in the city.
May 30: The two Korean women are tracked down and taken to the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung to be quarantined for 14 days.
June 1: Centre for Health Protection Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung announces that travellers from Seoul showing any symptoms such as fever would be treated as suspicious cases and tested for the deadly virus.
June 2: Hong Kong public hospitals step up preventive measures. Visitors to hospitals and patients are required to wear facial masks. The 44-year-old Korean man remains in Huizhou hospital. He denies lying about his health when being asked at Hong Kong airport a week earlier.