US embassy cable - 06HONGKONG777

AI: PRC PRESSURE ON HONG KONG; HHS A/S SIMONSON'S VISIT TO HONG KONG

Identifier: 06HONGKONG777
Wikileaks: View 06HONGKONG777 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Hong Kong
Created: 2006-02-26 06:41:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: AMED ECON PREL KSTH TBIO EAGR HK CH
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO8923
RR RUEHCN
DE RUEHHK #0777/01 0570641
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 260641Z FEB 06
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5096
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HONG KONG 000777 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EAP/ANP AND INR/EAP 
STATE FOR EAP/EP TWANG, EAP/CM KBENNETT, GWARD 
STATE FOR G VTUREKIAN 
STATE FOR M/MED AND M/MEDEX PETER WOOD 
STATE FOR OES ANTHONY ROCK, OES/STC MGOLDBERG, OES/IHA 
DSINGER AND RDALEY 
HHS FOR U/S SIMONSON 
HHS FOR OGHA - STEIGER, ELVANDER, BHAT 
BANGKOK FOR RMO, CDC 
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USDA FOR DU/US LAMBERT 
BEIJING FOR DSELIGSOHN, CSHAPIRO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2016 
TAGS: AMED, ECON, PREL, KSTH, TBIO, EAGR, HK, CH 
SUBJECT: AI: PRC PRESSURE ON HONG KONG; HHS A/S SIMONSON'S 
VISIT TO HONG KONG 
 
REF: HONG KONG 3520 
 
Classified By: E/P Chief Simon Schuchat.  Reasons 1.4 (B,D). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  During a meeting with between Department of 
Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary Stewart 
Simonson and Hong Kong University's (HKU) Microbiology 
Department, renowned influenza expert Dr. Robert Webster 
(strictly protect) alleged that pressure from the PRC's 
Ministry of Agriculture on Hong Kong's (HKG) Food and 
Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) had prevented HKU 
from acquiring samples of China's AI poultry vaccine.  This 
appears to be the first time that PRC pressure on the HKG has 
interfered with local AI research efforts.  Webster also said 
that HKU is planning to release a study that will show that 
the distribution of AI among poultry in China is much more 
extensive the Chinese government has reported and will 
"prove" that the lineage of AI strains in Vietnam can be 
directly traced back to specific provinces in China.  He 
predicted the study would greatly displease the Mainland 
government, and he expressed concern that this could result 
in efforts to "get rid of" of him and fellow flu researcher 
Guan Yi.  End Summary 
 
VISIT DETAILS 
 
2. (U) HHS Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson visited Hong 
Kong between December 28, 2005, and January 1, 2006, to 
observe the state of Hong Kong's avian influenza (AI) 
preparedness. He held meetings with the HKG Centre for Health 
Protection (CHP), the Agriculture, Fisheries an Conservation 
Department (AFCD), and the ChineseUniversity of Hong Kong's 
(CUHK) Centre for Emering Infectious Diseases, and HKU's 
Microbiology Department. 
 
Meeting With HKU Department of Microbology 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) HKU Department of Microbiology Profesors Robert 
Webster, Malik Peiris, and Guan Yi tod A/S Simonson that 
Mainland Chinese poultry vaccines have not been effective to 
date and may have actually driven the evolution of the AI 
virus.  Corruption in China is in general hampering the 
overall production of effective vaccines.  Webster emphasized 
the need for China to standardize its poultry vaccines, 
pointing out that a failure to do so could negatively impact 
countries such as Vietnam that purchase poultry vaccines from 
China.  Webster further alleged that pressure from the PRC's 
Ministry of Agriculture had forced the FEHD to interfere with 
HKU efforts to acquire samples of China's AI poultry vaccine. 
 
 
4. (C) Webster also said that HKU is planning to release a 
study that will show that the distribution of AI among 
poultry in China is much more extensive the Chinese 
government has reported and will "prove" that the lineage of 
AI strains in Vietnam can be directly traced back specific 
provinces in China.  Webster warned that this action will 
likely greatly displease the Mainland government and 
expressed concern that there may be efforts to "get rid of" 
of him and Guan Yi. 
 
5. (U) Professor Peiris said that although AI remains a real 
threat, it was "highly unlikely" that a pandemic deriving 
from H5N1 would strike in the next year or two.  As AI goes 
off of the public radar screen, governments have to manage 
public expectations and avoid backlash against the use of 
large amounts of government funds.  Peiris concluded that 
public health officials, doctors, and researchers should work 
hard to avoid the "Chicken Little" syndrome. 
 
6. (U) HKU professors expressed concern about the growing 
stability of the AI virus, noting that it could now survive 
for up to one week at a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. 
They noted, however, that some new data suggested a low rate 
of AI infection among poultry workers despite likely high 
levels of exposure to the virus.  This indicates that a 
genetic pre-disposition may be necessary for people to be 
 
HONG KONG 00000777  002 OF 003 
 
 
severely affected by the virus.  As for research on 
anti-viral drugs, Webster said that laboratory tests show 
that the H5N1 virus isolated from China is susceptible to 
combinations of Tamiflu and amantadine or rimantidine and 
therefore amantadine or rimantidine may be treatment options 
for persons with avian influenza. 
 
Meeting With CHP 
----------------- 
 
7. (U) CHP officials briefed A/S Simonson on the structure of 
Hong Kong's Department of Health and provided a quick 
overview of Hong Kong's Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan 
(covered in detail in reftel, also available at 
http://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/ 
flu plan framework en 20050222.pdf).  The CHP discussed the 
planned March 2006 completion of their Communicable Disease 
Information System (CDIS), which is designed to pull together 
various sources of communicable disease data and merge them 
into a central "data warehouse."  This data would be used to 
organize emergency response and planning efforts for any 
prospective pandemic disease situation.  CHP Controller Dr. 
P.Y. Leung pointed out that Mainland China already has a 
similar system in place and said that CDIS may be able to 
connect to the Mainland system.  The CHP hopes to deploy CDIS 
by the end of 2007 and start full operation of the system by 
2008. 
 
8. (U) Leung agreed with A/S Simonson's view that 
non-pharmaceutical intervention measures (hand washing, 
social distancing, etc.) were vitally important in the fight 
against AI.  In the event of a full blown pandemic, he 
continued, the HKG will try to encourage people to use social 
distancing measures and otherwise try to live as normally as 
possible.  Towards that aim, the CHP has met with various 
public utilities, businesses, and other private sector 
entities to help them set up business continuity plans.  As 
for possible border closures, Leung said that the HKG would 
be very reluctant to restrict travel; even if the borders 
closed, he explained, the HKG would not be able to deny Hong 
Kong residents the right to return home. 
 
9. (C) When asked about the HKG's contributions towards 
international efforts against AI, Leung said that Hong Kong's 
first priority was cooperating with Mainland China, 
especially Guangdong Province, against the spread of AI in 
the country.  Leung said that the CHP enjoyed good working 
relations with the PRC government, engaging frequently in 
exchanges of information with the Ministry of Health and 
health officials in Guangdong.  He added that doctors and 
researchers in Hong Kong also have extensive informal 
networks through which they can obtain information. 
 
Visit To CUHK Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
10. (U) Flu Researchers at CUHK's Centre for Emerging 
Infectious Diseases focus more on directly applicable 
clinical research as opposed to the molecular level 
laboratory-focused research being done by their colleagues at 
HKU.  Some of the research projects that CUHK is currently 
working on include ventilation in hospital rooms, oxygen flow 
rates through different types of masks, duration of viral 
shedding, and syndromic surveillance. 
 
11. (U) CUHK Microbiology Professor Paul Chan emphasized the 
importance of providing more training on the importance of 
infection control. (Note: HKU professors criticized the 
CUHK-affiliated Prince of Wales Hospital for poor infection 
control practices during SARS which led to high infection 
rates among hospital staff there. End note.)  Chan said that 
key factors in infection control included setting safe 
distances between beds, preventing symptomatic health care 
workers from reporting to duty, and making sure that there 
were exhaust fans in every ward to provide adequate 
ventilation.  CUHK professors also lamented the lack of 
foreign AI or pandemic flu "investments" in Hong Kong and 
hoped for improvements in the situation. 
 
HONG KONG 00000777  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
Meeting With AFCD 
------------------ 
 
12. (U) AFCD officials gave A/S Simonson an overview of the 
animal control measures that the HKG has implemented to 
combat the threat of AI (measures detailed in Hong Kong's 
Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan, also see reftel).  AFCD 
Assistant Director Thomas Sit said that the H5N1 virus 
evolves quite slowly in birds and appears to have reached a 
fairly stable stage in its evolutionary progression.  Sit 
concluded that AI situation in the region is currently quiet 
and stable. 
 
13. (U) This cable has been cleared with HHS A/S Simonson. 
Sakaue 

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