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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
HK officials criticised over Sars
By Chris Hogg
BBC Hong Kong correspondent

Sars virus
The Sars virus caused widespread panic
Senior Hong Kong government officials have been criticised for their handling of last year's Sars outbreak.

A report by a committee of lawmakers highlights the slow initial response to the emergence of the disease in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong.

It also says mistakes were made in containing its spread once it took hold in the territory.

Sars infected 1,755 in Hong Kong and killed 299 between March and June 2003.

Earlier investigations into what went wrong failed to single out individuals whose mistakes contributed to the spread of Sars in Hong Kong.

However, the new report focuses on the decisions made by senior officials in response to the crisis.

It says that, even though at least six newspapers in Hong Kong had carried reports of a new disease spreading over the border in China by early February of 2003, by that point the government had not managed to obtain any information about the outbreak.

Phone calls to Chinese officials were not answered, faxes were ignored, but no-one from the Department of Health was despatched to investigate.

The man in charge of health policy in Hong Kong, Dr Yeoh Eng-Kiong was not alert enough, the report says.

His attempts to reassure the public were confusing and misleading and he is criticised for attempting to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak.

The committee stops short of calling for anyone to resign. But it says Hong Kong needs a new contingency plan to deal with serious outbreaks of infectious disease in the future.

Government reaction

However the report, which follows a six-month inquiry, credited the city's much-criticised chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, for making a number of "strategic decisions" in controlling last year's outbreak.

Mr Tung said the government would carefully study the findings and recommendations of the report.

In a statement, he said: "The government has taken the lessons learnt from this humbling experience very seriously and will continue with its work to prevent and control infectious diseases."

He said a government-appointed Sars expert committee had already conducted a comprehensive review and made a number of recommendations to address the inadequacies of the healthcare system in handling large-scale outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The government has already implemented many of these recommendations and is in the process of putting the remaining ones in place.

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