Made in Hong Kong: Five Lessons for Europe’s Fight against the Coronavirus
At the time of writing, Hong Kong has recorded 1022 cases of coronavirus. This number is remarkably low, given that the city is crowded with 7.5 million people and is only a 4.5-hour high-speed rail ride from the Chinese “epicentre” Wuhan.
Hong Kong has adopted the following five measures to combat the virus. These are rarely seen in Europe, but all of them are worth considering in the European context.
Regular sanitisation of public facilities
Taking the underground as an example, every two hours, passenger facilities at the station are cleaned with 1:99 bleach water solution, including handrails, lift buttons and ticket issuing machines. Every day, each train compartment are disinfected top to bottom with the same solution after the completion of services.
Bus companies, meanwhile, also utilise “Nano-Photocatalyst” spraying technology to clean the whole fleet. This disinfectant is effective for three months and “can kill and inhibit more than 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, formaldehyde and other volatile organic substances”.
Hong Kong has also ensured that there’s plenty of hand sanitiser gel to go around, whether on mass transit or in other public and private places.
In Hong Kong, self-isolation takes two different forms.
Home quarantine, similar to what’s going on in many countries in Europe, is the first choice for people who fulfil certain criteria to be isolated. While staying at home, confinees are monitored by the Government “with the use of electronic wristbands and mobile phone”. The authorities provide supplementary supports as well. In case anyone under quarantine is not able to obtain food and/or handle his or her daily necessities (even including the disposal of waste), government officials are willing to help. Responsible personnel can be reached via a 24-hour hotline.
As the last resort, quarantine centres are available for those who are incapable of arranging accommodation. A holiday park used for isolation during the SARS outbreak in 2003 is now up and running again. Notwithstanding controversies, two out-of-the-box sites for quarantine facility have emerged — a historic site which was previously converted to a hotel and a newly constructed public estate.
Wearing face masks (?)
The reason for putting a question mark at the end of this suggestion is there is a clear scientific and cultural divergence on the question of whether or not people both with and without symptoms should wear face masks. Many professionals agree that one of advantages of mask-wearing is that it provides protection from the wearers’ own fingers and hands. Mask-wearing was extremely common in Hong Kong, even before the epidemic and even for people who are only mildly ill.. Although it may be hard to quantify the effectiveness of mask-wearing, this precaution is definitely on the to-do-list to battle the disease with the determination – “whatever it takes”.
Stop mispresenting or downplaying the seriousness of the epidemic
The daily government announcement from the European city I am now staying in described the spread of the virus in this manner: “……a total of 103 confirmed coronavirus infections (SaRS-CoV-2) have been reported to the public health department…..Influenza (flu) has affected 566 people.” This way of presentation is so different from Hong Kong, where a government website solely displays seven types of number of cases.
On one hand, comparing the number of cases of coronavirus with influenza infections could serve to calm down the panicking public. However, it may well backfire as citizens belittle the spreading illness. Weakening the public awareness of personal hygiene should be the last thing governments worldwide want to do during this chaotic time.
Learn from the Past
In 2003, Hong Kong tackled the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 1,755 individuals were infected, and 300 died. After victory over the virus came with this serious loss of life, an expert committee was appointed to review how the crisis had been handled. The committee gave numerous recommendations, such as boosting capacity of intensive care and isolation facilities, laboratories, surveillance and contact tracing, as well as establishing a Centre for Health Protection, strengthening information-sharing among relevant parties, and clarifying the division of tasks among government bureaus, departments and agencies. After overcoming this current epidemic, examining the causes that made Europe another epicentre should help preventing chaos during future disease outbreaks.
There is no such thing as the best model for fighting against the virus. With the support of the European Union, countries on the continent could have performed better and managed the situation before it got out of hand. The aftermath of this turbulent time should be an appropriate occasion for every nation to review and reform its procedure of infection control, so as to better protect its citizens.
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