Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man; the Director of Health, Dr Constance Chan; and the Controller of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Leung Ting-hung, at a media session on the latest developments of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) at the Central Government Offices this afternoon (June 8):
Secretary for Food and Health: I am very concerned about the development of the outbreaks of MERS in Middle East and the Republic of Korea. Because of the very close and frequent personnel exchange between Hong Kong and Korea, we are particularly concerned about the recent development in Korea. We notice that there is a significant increase in the number of tertiary transmission among the confirmed MERS cases. It has actually exceeded the other categories in all the confirmed cases. At the same time, according to media reports, there is a recent confirmed MERS patient in Busan. All these factors have significantly increased the risk of community outbreak of the disease in Korea. I have, therefore, just convened an interdepartmental meeting under the MERS Preparedness Plan and decided to raise the response level from “Alert” to “Serious”. At the same time, the Department of Health has also issued a travel health advice. We appeal to members of the public to avoid unnecessary travel to the Republic of Korea. If there is a need to be there, please avoid visiting health-care institutions and take necessary infection control measures, such as wearing a mask and pay attention to hand hygiene.
Controller of the Centre for Health Protection: Since the first case confirmed on May 20, altogether 87 cases of MERS have been confirmed as of this morning. These include an exported case to Guangdong Province. The cases involve several cities in Korea, involving three to four provinces. So far, according to the information provided by the Korean health authority, all the cases contracted the infection in or within the hospital setting. We are very concerned that as the number of tertiary cases has reached more than 60 per cent and has exceeded the number of cases in the second generation, or the secondary cases, the risk of community transmission is certainly possible, although the Korean health authority has said that so far all the cases have contracted the infection at the hospital setting.
Director of Health: I would like to mention the factors which we take into account in considering escalating the preparedness level of the MERS Preparedness Plan in Hong Kong from “Alert” to “Serious”. We have taken into account the increasing numbers of MERS in Korea which we believe would likely continue to increase, the details of which Dr Leung has just reported to you. Hong Kong, as we all know, is a very densely populated city and we have very close communication with Korea. Korea is a very popular tourist destination for Hong Kong. And we understand that daily, on average, some 5 000 people leave Hong Kong for Korea and at the same time, on average, about 5 000 people come back from Korea to Hong Kong. Although, at present, there is no evidence, I have to emphasise, at present there is no evidence of community outbreak in Korea and there is no evidence which points to an efficient transmission from human to human in this MERS Coronavirus. Nonetheless, having considered the fact that our public health-care system is already close to saturation, we considered it is necessary for Hong Kong to adopt a more stringent measure to prevent the introduction of MERS into Hong Kong.
Reporter: (About official warning issuance and airport inspection.)
Secretary for Food and Health: There is yet no concrete evidence of community sustained transmission in Korea. There is also no biological evidence of mutation of this particular coronavirus to the effect that it can now highly adapt itself to the human environment and can transmit amongst human beings efficiently. Nevertheless, we are still taking these measures, that is, to escalate our response level and to issue a travel health advice to our citizens. It is mainly due to the facts that the risk of community outbreak in Korea has now significantly increased and there is a very close and frequent personnel exchange between Hong Kong and Korea.