US embassy cable - 06HONGKONG957

HONG KONG REACTIONS TO GUANGZHOU CASE

Identifier: 06HONGKONG957
Wikileaks: View 06HONGKONG957 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Hong Kong
Created: 2006-03-08 07:11:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: ECON TBIO SENV EAGR AMED KFLU HK CH
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO1698
RR RUEHCN RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHPB
DE RUEHHK #0957/01 0670711
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 080711Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5365
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1046
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HONG KONG 000957 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EAP/ANP AND INR/EAP, EAP/EX, EAP/BCLTV, 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/IRA 
DSINGER AND RDALEY 
HHS FOR OGRA -STEIGER, ELVANDER, BHAT BANGKOK FOR RMO, CDC 
USDA FOR DU/US --LAMBERT 
BEIJING FOR DSELIGSOHN, CSHAPIRO 
 
E.O. 12958: NA 
TAGS: ECON, TBIO, SENV, EAGR, AMED, KFLU, HK, CH 
SUBJECT: HONG KONG REACTIONS TO GUANGZHOU CASE 
 
REFS: A) Guangzhou 6174  B) Guangzhou 6175 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  On March 3, 2006 the Health Department of 
Guangdong Province informed the Hong Kong Department of 
Health (DOH) of a suspected human case of H5N1 avian 
influenza (AI).  After the case was confirmed by Guangdong 
Provincial authorities as a definite H5N1 case (see reftels) 
on March 5, the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau (HWFB) 
announced that imports of live poultry, day-old chicks, and 
pet birds from the Guangdong Province would be banned for 
three weeks to provide sufficient time for Guangdong and 
Hong Kong health officials to conduct a comprehensive 
epidemiological investigation.  The Centre for Health 
Protection sent three medical officials to Guangzhou to take 
part in the investigation.  AI expert Guan Yi said that the 
situation raised serious questions about the effectiveness 
of mainland Chinese poultry vaccines but praised both 
Guangzhou's improved transparency as well as the Hong Kong 
Government's (HKG) cautious responses thus far.  Democratic 
Party legislator Fred Li, on the other hand, expressed 
serious concern about the delay between the AI victim's 
hospitalization on February 22 and Guangdong's notification 
of the case to the HKG on March 3.  End Summary. 
 
New Human AI Case in Guangzhou 
------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) On March 3, the Guangdong Province Health 
Department informed the Hong Kong DOH about the suspected 
H5N1 related death of a Guangzhou man on March 2 (see 
reftels).  After Guangdong Provincial authorities confirmed 
on March 5 that the man's death was indeed caused by the 
H5N1 virus, the HKG announced that imports of live poultry, 
day-old chicks, and pet birds from the Guangdong Province 
would be banned for three weeks to provide sufficient time 
for Guangdong and Hong Kong health officials to conduct a 
comprehensive epidemiological investigation.  On March 7, 
the AFCD announced that the HKG would limit the number of 
new poultry licenses so that the poultry population in Hong 
Kong is kept under two million chickens at any time. 
Furthermore, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department 
(FEHD) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation 
Department (AFCD) announced that they would enhance AI 
surveillance and check other bio-safety measures at all 
poultry-related locations in Hong Kong.  According to media 
reports, the price of freshly slaughtered chickens has 
already risen 60% since the announcement of the ban.  If the 
suspension continues over 3 weeks, local supplies of live 
chickens will then be also affected due to the inability of 
Hong Kong poultry farms to restock with day-old chicks. 
 
3. (SBU) Although the HKG did not institute any border 
restrictions or require travelers to fill out a health 
declaration, Hong Kong immigration officials stepped up 
public awareness efforts at all immigration control points 
by distributing flyers and putting up more AI awareness 
posters.  DOH Director P.Y. Lam stated that stricter 
immigration controls were not necessary until the 
confirmation of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 
virus.  CHP spokesperson Thomas Tsang told Econoff that the 
CHP had sent three senior medical officers to Guangzhou to 
conduct an epidemiological investigation there: Principal 
Medical and Health Officer Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Head of 
Public Health Laboratory Services Branch Dr Wilina Lim, and 
Senior Medical and Health Officer Dr Edwin Tsui.  All three 
officers have been involved in previous epidemiological 
investigations in mainland China, most notably during the 
2005 streptococcus suis outbreak in Sichuan.  On March 7, 
Dr. Chuang said that she believed the AI victim had most 
likely been infected from live poultry stalls in a Guangzhou 
wet market. 
 
AI Expert Guan Yi Speaks 
------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) Hong Kong University (HKU) researcher Guan Yi said 
 
HONG KONG 00000957  002 OF 002 
 
 
that he was not surprised that a human infection had 
originated in Guangzhou, pointing out that HKU research had 
shown the presence of H5N1 in many mainland provinces where 
it has not been reported recently.  He said that while the 
situation was certainly more dangerous than before, he still 
believed that this was an isolated case.  Guan said that as 
far as he knew, the girlfriend of the infected man had only 
shown normal flu-like symptoms, not the more severe symptoms 
associated with H5N1 infection.  As for the source of the 
infection, he said that in line with the results of the 
recent HKU study he would not be surprised if one percent of 
the chickens in Guangzhou wet markets were actually non- 
symptomatic carriers of the H5N1 virus.  This would mean 
that the poultry vaccines being used by mainland Chinese 
officials were ineffective and possibly hiding the further 
spread of the virus.  Guan admitted, though, that he had no 
hard data to support this theory and had no samples of the 
various AI vaccines being used by mainland officials. 
 
5. (SBU) Despite his doubts about the mainland Chinese 
poultry vaccines, Guan said that the Guangdong Government 
had evidently "learned how to behave" (xue guaile) since the 
SARS epidemic.  He said that the seemingly long delay 
between the hospitalization of the infected man and the 
official notification to the HKG about the case merely 
reflected Guangzhou's limitations in both surveillance and 
analysis capabilities.  Guan agreed with the HKG's approach 
towards the situation, saying that there was no need to stir 
up a panic in Hong Kong and cause unnecessary troubles by 
imposing travel restrictions.  He said that HKG officials 
had done a good job in walking the fine line between taking 
prudent precautions and overreacting to the situation. 
 
Legco Reactions 
---------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Democratic Party Legislator Fred Li, on the other 
hand, said that many Legco members were "extremely 
concerned" about the delay between the man's hospitalization 
and the notification to the HKG about the case.  Li said 
that Guangzhou should be notifying the HKG at the 
preliminary test result stage as opposed to waiting for a 
final result, at which point it may be too late to take 
precautionary measures.  Even if they catch the index case, 
he continued, they could always miss secondary cases if the 
H5N1 virus were to mutate into an efficiently transmitted 
human-to-human disease.  Li claimed that the three week ban 
on poultry had been his idea to "buy time" for a full 
epidemiological investigation into the circumstances 
surrounding this case.  If there are no chickens in 
Guangzhou with H5N1, asked Li, how in the world did this 
poor man become infected with the virus? 
 
Cunningham 

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