Crisis Management of SARS
The Hon, MAK Kwok-fung, Michael
Legislative Councilor

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is in turmoil at the outbreak of Atypical Pneumonia, a new disease with intense infectivity and empirically high mortality rate. The World Health Organisation (WHO) names it as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Very surprisingly, the Government did amend the title of the disease unilaterally initially by calling it as Severe Respiratory Syndrome (SRS) due to SARS inadvertently bearing discriminatory reference to HKSAR; reversion was necessary shortly afterwards as the abbreviation "SRS" means something totally different indeed! Undoubtedly, failure to manage the crisis satisfactorily by the Government is the major cause of its un-controllable spread of infection in the community now!

The SARS was first broken out in the Guangdong Province of our mother country, the People Republic of China, in as early as February this year when the people there were panicky with buying the white vinegar for subjective infection control on a non-evidence scientific basis. Unfortunately, the Guangdong government failed to communicate appropriately with the HKSAR, which, however, did not respond promptly also, nor the WHO. It finally shows that we are so delicate and vulnerable to the dread and mysterious infection. The outcome of such is devastating - loss of lives, serious disruption of normal living of the citizens and the invaluable loss of our Gross Domestic Product this year and the years to come. It is paradoxical that we could learn from the traumatic experience of our crisis management!

In early March, the infection successfully secured its landing via the "high-price" visit of a professor from the Mainland. Over-confidence in and even conceit with effective control of the infection initially was the anticipated result of the virus diffusing in the community. The number of infections rose drastically to finally awaken the government to react with amending the laws to include the SARS for isolation order imposed to the residents of Block E of the Amoy Gardens under the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance, Cap. 141. Now, the infection still drags the HKSAR to a state of our citizens being discriminated against by overseas countries, not to mention its giving heavy and serious blows to the health of many innocent front-line health-care providers and taking away the lives of many others. In fact, the infection has already caused nervous worries worldwide and nobody can be insured with the immunity. The disease is neither ascertained with the micro-organism - the University of Hong Kong identifies it as coronavirus, the Chinese University of Hong Kong as paramyxovirus, whereas the Mainland as chlamydia - nor the very exact mode of transmission although official sources assert it as droplet infection.

The prognosis of controlling the infection cannot be assured at this stage and is even somehow worrying. Some experts consider SARS would become an endemic infection in the future. For an effective control in order to keep the damage to the minimum, everybody of us in the community has one's sheer responsibility. As health-care professionals, we dedicate our professionalism to manage the infection, especially in upholding the principles of public health for the benefits of the whole world at large, although we risk our health, hopefully not lives, for the battle. For those unfortunately sick or likely to be infected, the earliest seeking of treatment is cardinal. Society needs both the civic and moral obligation of these people to comply with the measures, no matter how stringent they are. Needless to say, the sources of infection must be contained by every possible means without any delay. Travel is so free and easy nowadays; timeliness in communicating among governments in case of outbreak of an infection is essential to enable the counterpart government to take precautions promptly.

We, not to mention our stressed health-care system, cannot afford to let the infection not come to a quick halt! Shall everybody in the community join hands to combat the notorious infection! Shall we also have an evaluation of the management of the crisis in an open and unbiased manner after the infection is eradicated!

I am indignant with the great price we have been paying for something under-done! However, with determination and concerted efforts, I am sure we will win the battle!