May Day holiday flares pandemic fears

Friday, May 1, 2009
Issue 688, Page 1 & 3
Word count: 681
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Macau government announced on the eve of the Labour Day long weekend last night that its influenza epidemic alert is to be raised from level 3 to 4 on a six-level scale starting today.

Multiple preventive measures will be reinforced at the same time especially at various border checkpoints, as cross-country travels will be more frequent for this annual holiday.

Macau’s decision came after the World Health Organization (WHO) on April 29 lifted the influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5, also on a six-level scale.

According to the WHO website, “Phase 5 is characterised by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries (refer the US and Mexico in this case) in one WHO region.

“While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organisation, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short”.

It was the second time during this week for the SAR government to raise its epidemic alert level after Monday.

According to Health Bureau (SSM) director Lei Chin Ion at a press conference last night, Macau’s current flu alert is one level lower than that of the WHO because the countries where human cases of swine flu infection have been reported are “far away” from the SAR.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah said at a public event yesterday that the SAR government is “highly concerned” about the international swine influenza outbreak, and has fully activated its precaution mechanism in collaboration with Guangdong and Hong Kong authorities.

Mr Ho stressed that if necessary, the government will employ all its resources and capabilities “at all costs” in order to protect local people’s health and safety.

Besides the body temperature scanning at all border checkpoints has been resumed, starting at 9am today visitors who arrive Macau via the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal and the Macau International Airport will have to fill in health declaration forms.

The Border Gate checkpoint has not yet been introduced to the measure as the visitors there are mainly from mainland China where no swine influenza case is reported, SSM director said.

Meanwhile, Lei said holidays of all SSM staff will be restricted and the emergency liaison mechanism will be implemented so that health personnel could be on call round-the-clock.

The Conde de São Januário Hospital (CHCSJ) and the public health centres will reduce the number of non-emergency service appointments and also start to separate patients with fever or respiratory diseases.

Lei said the hospital has 120 standard sickbeds available in the isolation ward, and at the same time is trying to vacate more sickbeds as possible.

The SSM director also urges residents not to visit medical institutes if not necessary, or otherwise they should wear face masks when present.

The government will further require all schools and nursing homes to foster their daily health checks measures and environmental hygiene.

Lei said as the quick diagnostic test is not yet available worldwide, at present if a suspected swine flu case is reported, it will take about two to three days to confirm.

On the other hand, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Chui Sai On in the evening inspected the facilities and body temperature scanning machines at the Coloane Rehabilitation Centre of Infectious Diseases, the Macau International Airport, the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal, the Border Gate checkpoint, as well as the CHCSJ isolation ward and its command centre which were used during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The secretary said he was satisfied with Macau’s health monitoring and preventive measures after the visits.

He also said that to date Macau does not find any suspected or confirmed case of swine influenza in the territory, but the government will remain closely follow the WHO’s guidelines to carry out preparedness and response plans.

In addition, Macau has set up a special website about swine influenza where latest updates from the SSM will be announced.

The website is available in Chinese, Portuguese and English and can be accessed through www.ssm.gov.mo.

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