Statement by the Hong Kong's Director of Health in response to the recent handling of the SARS outbreak

Statement made by the Director of Health, Dr Lam Ping-yan, during a press conference today (July 5) in response to the Report by the Legislative Council's Select Committee to inquire into the handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak by the Government and the Hospital Authority:

I am very grateful to members of the Select Committee for their immense effort in the past few months in looking into the work done by the Department of Health (DH), along with that by other agencies, in the SARS outbreak. The inquiry is indeed a mammoth task in view of the number of parties involved, and the vast volume of documents and evidence submitted.

The SARS outbreak took Hong Kong, and indeed the world, by storm in 2003. Little was known about the disease when it first struck Hong Kong last March. The magnitude of the outbreak, the non-specific nature of the symptoms, the lack of a quick diagnostic test for the syndrome and the speed with which workload and cases escalated had all contributed to the difficulties in managing the outbreak.

During the SARS outbreak, the public health colleagues of DH, both in the frontline and at the management levels, worked consistently well into mid-night virtually every day for more than three months to ensure that all control measures were in place despite the very difficult circumstances. I was deeply touched by the selfless dedication and courage demonstrated by DH colleagues and throughout the civil service, working in close partnership with the Hospital Authority (HA) and the entire community in cohesion.

The report has provided further insights into the SARS outbreak and we will examine the report in detail and respond actively for continuous enhancement.

I wish to reiterate that DH fully reckons that in the early days of the SARS outbreak, inadequacies in our established systems in public health in response to outbreak of that magnitude were exposed. DH has reviewed its performance in the context of the Review by the SARS Expert Committee and has been actively and vigorously implementing the recommendations of the Expert Committee's Report released in October 2003. The momentum in fostering closer collaboration between DH and the HA continues, and proactive discussions with the Mainland health authorities have led to stronger liaison and strengthened information flow on infectious diseases in the Pearl River Delta region. Within DH, the Centre for Health Protection was formally launched on 1 June 2004 for achieving effective prevention and control of diseases in Hong Kong in collaboration with major local and international stakeholders, through real-time surveillance, rapid intervention and responsive risk communication.

Hong Kong had risen to the challenges and the painful experience of the SARS epidemic through selfless devotion, courage and strong commitment of the healthcare professionals as well as all sectors in the community. With this fighting spirit and concerted efforts by all, I am confident that Hong Kong will continue to move forward with a strengthened healthcare defence system for protecting the community against potential threats of disease outbreaks.

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