|Credit HK CHP|
A decade ago, when the concept of an avian flu pandemic was relatively fresh in the minds of the public, health officials, and all levels of government . . . a week scarcely went by without our seeing one or more high profile `pandemic exercise' somewhere around the world.
These drills were held by both the public and private sector, and ranged from multi-national exercises all the way down to exercises held by local hospitals, and city governments. A few (out of scores of) blogs from that `golden age' of pandemic preparedness include:
Scottsdale Arizona: Pandemic Drill
Idaho BlogEx : July 28th
UK: Lessons Learned From Winter Willow
UK Exercise: PPE Usage In A Pandemic
While not all of these drills were terribly realistic (i.e. practicing for rapid delivery of a vaccine that was unlikely to exist for months), they did serve to increase awareness - both for those taking part, for the public who heard about them in the media.
Although pandemic threats are arguably greater today than ever, pandemic exercises like the ones listed above have become far less common, particularly among the private sector or at the local level.
Drills - when they are held - rarely get a mention in the media. This despite repeated warnings (see World Bank: World Ill-Prepared For A Pandemic and Pandemic Unpreparedness Revisited) that we remain woefully unprepared for a severe pandemic.There are exceptions, of course. Mainland China, being at ground zero for both H7N9 and H5N6, drills at both the national and province level several times each year. Hong Kong is another of those places that not only holds drills every year, they publicize it heavily (see Hong Kong Conducts Avian Flu Drill).
Today Hong Kong's CHP reports on their latest `novel flu' drill, called exercise `Garnet'. First their announcement, then I'll return with a post script.
The Government tested its preparedness for possible detection of a novel influenza case today (November 30) during an exercise code-named "Garnet", organised by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health (DH) in collaboration with other government departments and organisations at Wo Che Plaza, Sha Tin.
Exercise "Garnet" was aimed at assessing the interoperability of government departments and organisations in response to the detection of a case of novel influenza, testing their execution of the Preparedness Plan for Influenza Pandemic, as well as enhancing the alertness and readiness of relevant stakeholders in guarding Hong Kong against novel influenza and the threat of the spread of communicable disease.
About 50 participants from relevant government departments and organisations took part in the exercise, with 11 experts from the Mainland and Macau health authorities as observers. The exercise consisted of two parts. The first part was a table-top exercise conducted on November 15, in which relevant departments and organisations discussed and co-ordinated the communicable disease response measures required in the simulated scenario of detection of a confirmed case of novel influenza in Hong Kong.
The second part, conducted today, was a ground movement exercise. Under the exercise simulation, a female staff member of a telecommunications company working at Wo Che Plaza tested positive for novel influenza virus. Initial epidemiological investigations revealed that while she had no poultry contact locally, she had travelled to a country with a novel influenza outbreak. Among other staff members who had close contact with her, some had also developed symptoms of novel influenza.
The DH responded immediately and co-ordinated with relevant departments and organisations to formulate and implement corresponding measures. In addition to conducting on-site assessment and epidemiological investigations by its Public Health Team, the DH under this exercise also held a briefing for the staff members concerned, advised them on infection control measures, prescribed antiviral prophylaxis for the close contacts, and instructed the shopping mall operator and its cleaning services company to disinfect the contaminated areas.
"Apart from the seasonal influenza viruses which circulate among humans, many other influenza A viruses are found in birds and other animal species. These viruses are distinct from human seasonal influenza viruses, and new types of virus may appear from time to time. Some of them can infect humans, causing disease ranging from mild conjunctivitis to severe pneumonia and even death. They are collectively termed novel influenza viruses, against which the human population generally lacks immunity. If a novel influenza virus acquires the capacity to spread easily from person to person through genetic changes, an influenza pandemic can occur. As such, we should stay vigilant to better prepare ourselves for these emerging infections," a DH spokesman said.
"The DH conducts public health exercises regularly to test and assess the effectiveness of the Government's preparedness and response plans as well as procedures for communicable diseases, and carry out preventive measures with dedication. We will continue to conduct interdepartmental exercises with government departments, organisations and stakeholders concerned in close partnership, with the goal of enhancing Hong Kong's overall preparedness in the control and prevention of communicable diseases," the spokesman added.
Ends/Thursday, November 30, 2017Issued at HKT 17:10
Encouragingly, 2017 has seen a bit of a renaissance in pandemic planning at the highest levels of government (see ECDC: Guide To Revising The Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan & HHS 2017 Influenza Pandemic Update: Planning Assumptions) - along with recent events like the Smithsonian `Next Pandemic' Webinar.
Hopefully some of that will start to filter down to the state and local level, and into the private sector as well.Given the speed at which a pandemic could spread in our highly mobile 21st century society, we might find ourselves with only days or perhaps a few weeks to prepare once the threat becomes obvious.
Going flatfooted into a mild pandemic would be regrettable, doing so with a severe pandemic virus could be disastrous. Simply put, if we hope to be prepared, we need to start now.For more on pandemic preparedness, you may wish to revisit these older blogs.