Hong Kong is truly an international city and Hong Kong International Airport ranked #10 in the world in 2014, handling over 63 million passengers.
With sporadic MERS outbreaks across the Middle East, and the ongoing outbreak in South Korea, public health authorities are particularly alert for passengers arriving from these areas that show even the slightest indication of illness, be it a fever or respiratory symptoms.
Over the past 24 hours Hong Kong has detected 19 such travelers, and they have been placed in isolation, and are being tested. So far, 14 of these 19 cases have tested negative, with 5 tests still pending. Tests for the negative cases will likely have to be repeated over several days before they are given the all clear.
While most (if not all) of these cases will eventually be cleared, as the Korean outbreak illustrates, it only takes one infected traveler to start a mini-epidemic.
This quarantining and testing imposes a substantial burden on Hong Kong's public health system, but their experience with SARS in 2003 has left them understandably cautious when it comes to dealing with any infectious disease.
This degree of vigilance, while comforting, is something that is unlikely to be matched by many of the world's countries who also routinely see travelers from the Middle East and Korea. Meaning it would not be terribly surprising to see other imported cases of MERS pop up around the world in the months to come.
Here is the latest update from the CHP.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) provided a daily update on the number of suspected cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) under the CHP's investigation with effect from today (June 9), and again urged the public to pay special attention to safety during travel, taking due consideration of health risks of the places of visit.
Since the activation of the Serious Response Level under the Government's Preparedness Plan for MERS yesterday (June 8) to noon today, the CHP was notified of 19 suspected cases, including 14 tested negative for MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) upon preliminary testing by the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch and the remaining five pending test results. Cases are detailed in the Attachment.
"Regarding the first case exported from Korea to Mainland China, all 19 asymptomatic close contacts in Hong Kong have completed quarantine this afternoon," a spokesman for the CHP said.
"In view of the latest situation in Korea, the public should avoid unnecessary travel to Korea, in particular, those with chronic illnesses. Travellers in Korea and the Middle East should avoid unnecessary visit to health-care facilities (HCFs)," the spokesman said.
Locally, the DH's surveillance with public and private hospitals, practising doctors and at boundary control points is firmly in place. Inbound travellers with fever or lower respiratory symptoms who recently visited Korea and the Middle East will be classified as suspected MERS cases and taken to public hospitals for isolation and management until their specimens test negative for MERS-CoV.
"In addition, travellers to the Middle East should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels, and avoid contact with sick persons and animals, especially camels, birds or poultry. We strongly advise travel agents organising tours to the Middle East to abstain from arranging camel rides and activities involving direct contact with camels, which are a known risk factor for acquiring MERS. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), among the recently exported cases in which the patients reported performing Umrah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), investigations revealed that they had either visited an HCF or had come into contact with camels or raw camel products while in the KSA. As Ramadan will begin in mid-June, pilgrims preparing to go to the KSA for Umrah should be vigilant against MERS," the spokesman said.