7th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) Yuen Kwok-yung, a chair professor of infectious diseases at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has penned an article emphasising the need for Hong Kong to adopt a “business as usual” mentality in the post-pandemic era. He suggests that the city should be prepared to detect and extinguish the emergence of new infectious diseases at their source, both before they become widespread and during times of crisis.
Yuen highlights the uncertainty surrounding the timing of future pandemics, emphasizing that even during periods of relative calm, Hong Kong should remain vigilant against imported cases. He suggests implementing strict screening measures for incoming travellers who exhibit symptoms of fever or illness, regardless of the prevailing situation. This practice should be standard procedure, particularly for individuals arriving from regions with outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Additionally, Yuen emphasizes the importance of timely and accurate testing, using next-generation sequencing methods to identify pathogens in samples from individuals who have tested negative but are still suspected of carrying the virus. He also recommends that travellers consistently wear masks and cooperate with epidemiological tracing efforts. Furthermore, border control measures should be revised to minimise exemptions and prevent infected individuals from entering Hong Kong.
Yuen advises the Hospital Authority and Department of Health to be prepared with the necessary equipment, personnel, and expertise to rapidly expand various nucleic acid testing capabilities. They should also be able to activate large-scale pandemic response protocols efficiently, allowing for the identification and isolation of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases to control the spread of the virus.
Private healthcare institutions should enhance their infection control infrastructure to serve as a buffer during times of explosive outbreaks, thereby preventing the collapse of the public healthcare system. Yuen suggests that some of the over 5,000 beds in private hospitals could be converted into negative pressure isolation units in the event of a major outbreak, providing much-needed additional capacity and preventing the overload of the public system.
Furthermore, Yuen proposes that the government gradually phase out older-style elderly care homes, which vary widely in terms of quality. He recommends establishing new hardware standards and constructing large-scale comprehensive elderly care centres equipped with on-site medical staff and healthcare facilities. These centres should prioritize spacious accommodations, such as single or double rooms, with adequate ventilation and independent air circulation systems.
Yuen also emphasises the need for public awareness and improved health and hygiene practices among Hong Kong citizens. He believes that fostering a resilient mindset is essential to prepare for future outbreaks. He advocates for a “business as usual” approach, where all aspects of society, including software, hardware, and mentality, are prepared to face challenges. The ultimate goal is for Hong Kong to continue functioning normally, even in the absence of pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines, without the need for prolonged work stoppages or school closures. The city should maintain regular operations in terms of land, sea, and air transportation, allowing citizens to go about their daily lives with minimal disruption.