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Cablegate: Influenza in Hong Kong: Expert Group Appointed,

VZCZCXRO3661
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHHM
DE RUEHHK #0470 0730930
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 130930Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4388
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 0688
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 1993
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3686
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH PRIORITY 0809
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE PRIORITY 9585
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU PRIORITY 1269
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU PRIORITY 1107
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY PRIORITY 0311
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI PRIORITY
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG PRIORITY 3716
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI PRIORITY 4865
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA PRIORITY
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS HONG KONG 000470

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM, CA/OCS/ACS/EAP, AIAG, OES/IHA, MED
HHS FOR OGHA - STEIGER, HICKEY
CDC ATLANTA FOR CCID AND COGH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO KFLU EAGR CASC AMED AMGT PINR MO HK
SUBJECT: INFLUENZA IN HONG KONG: EXPERT GROUP APPOINTED,
SCHOOLS CLOSE EARLY FOR EASTER

REF: A. HONG KONG 348
B. HONG KONG 370
C. HONG KONG 402

1. (U) Summary. Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health, Dr.
York Chow, has established an expert working group within the
Centre for Health Protection (CHP) to study three recent
fatalities during this current peak influenza season. In a
late-night March 12 press conference, Secretary Chow
announced that all primary, kindergarten and nursery schools
would be closed for two weeks, beginning March 13. Both
measures respond to growing public anxiety resulting from
recent influenza outbreaks concerning young children, Chow
said. There is no indication that the virus has become more
virulent than in previous years; influenza virus detection
cases remain lower than in 2007 and 2006. The Hong Kong
Government has not yet formally notified the WHO of the
current situation. End Summary.

2. (U) On March 11, the CHP established an expert group to
investigate three fatal cases involving young children during
the current peak influenza season (reftel). The most recent
fatality, on March 11, was a seven-year-old boy who had been
admitted to the hospital with neurological and respiratory
symptoms. The expert group is chaired by University of Hong
Kong Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a top scientist and leading
researcher during the severe acute respiratory syndrome
(SARS) outbreak in 2004. The panel will draw upon experts in
microbiology, forensic medicine, pathology and toxicology as
needed to determine potential linkage between the cases, the
virulence of the virus, and additional prevention measures
that can be taken by the HKG. Currently, there is no
indication of a significant change in the virus that makes it
more virulent than in previous years.

3. (U) Secretary Chow, in conjunction with the Education
Bureau, announced March 12 that all primary, kindergarten and
nursery schools would be closed for two weeks, beginning
March 13. This action moves up and extends the previously
scheduled Easter vacation period. This closure impacts
approximately 560,000 students at 1,745 schools, and aims to
reduce the opportunity for contagion in primary schools,
allow for cleaning of school facilities and allow for the
virus incubation period to pass. CHP predicts that the peak
influenza season should last for several more weeks.

4. (U) On March 13, Secretary Chow asked the the Health
Department and Hospital Authority to begin compiling data on
influenza cases in children, and reiterating that the school
closings were a precautionary measure. He also noted that
the HKG has not yet formally notified the WHO of the
situation in Hong Kong, as this is not an outbreak of
influenza.

5. (SBU) Comment: As Secretary Chow noted in last night's
press conference, public fear is a key factor driving the
HKG's increased measures and response. The deaths of the
three children are garnering extensive and emotional press
attention; additional media sensationalism is further fueling
citizen anxiety. We see more people on the street wearing
masks, and the topic is constantly in conversation. The
numbers of confirmed influenza cases and outbreaks continue
to rise, although still lower than in 2006 and 2007. The
psychological and economic impact of SARS and Avian Influenza
on Hong Kong memories inspire extreme caution and vigilance
on the part of the government. End comment.

6. (U) Post's point of contact is ESTH Officer Dawn Schrepel,
who can be reached at schrepeldm@state.gov, 852-2841-2104
(office) or 852-9154-4053 (mobile).
Cunningham

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