Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 12:47 UK

Parents back Hong Kong flu action

By Vaudine England
BBC News, Hong Kong

A teacher takes a girl's temperature at a nursery in Hong Kong, 11 June 2009
Public fear of infection is high in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government is closing all its nurseries and primary schools for two weeks after the confirmation that 12 students at one school caught the swine flu virus.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang dashed back from a trip in China the night before.

Mr Tsang said there was no need to panic, only to stay alert. The closure is intended to slow the spread of the disease, he said.

To highlight how seriously the government was taking the issue, he chose to announce the school closure personally - just in time for lunchtime news bulletins.


Hong Kong's parents are broadly supportive of the government's move - although one parent said "the word 'overreaction' comes to mind".

Hong Kong is already at the highest emergency alert level
York Chow Yat-ngok
Secretary for Food and Health

Criticism that the government is being heavy-handed has been muted however. In this crowded metropolis, the public fear of infection is high.

"I think it's fine because it's a precautionary measure," said senior policeman Ken Pemberton, a father of four schoolchildren.

"Most people in Hong Kong are sympathetic to what the government is doing because of our experience with Sars," he added.

That was the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, during which 300 people died, including nurses and doctors.

Sars was a shocking experience for this densely populated territory, and the government was criticised for not acting decisively or fast enough.

In an interesting twist of fate, the health minister through that crisis was Margaret Chan, now the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Now the government, losing popularity over recent political missteps, is taking centre stage on protecting the public's health.

On high alert

The Centre for Health Protection is interviewing everyone at St Paul's Convent School - where the new cluster of 12 cases has been found - to check if there is any overseas link.

Symptoms usually similar to seasonal flu
It is a new version of the H1N1 strain which caused the 1918 flu pandemic
Current treatments do work, but there is no vaccine
Good personal hygiene, such as washing hands, covering nose when sneezing advised

If this outbreak can be traced to an imported infection, officials and parents might feel easier.

But Mr Tsang made clear that local infection was inevitable, sooner or later, for a place as open as Hong Kong.

Almost 50 people in Hong Kong have had swine flu, all of them imported.

The government said this week that even if the WHO declares a pandemic, it would not affect Hong Kong much as it was already operating under that assumption.

Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, the Secretary for Food and Health, said: "No matter what their decision will be, Hong Kong is already at the highest emergency alert level. Also, we have already made some long-term arrangements."

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