Response to Public Health Emergencies Tested
(HONG KONG, 4 June 2010) – The readiness of government departments and related organisations to effectively deal with emergencies related to severe infectious diseases was put to the test in an exercise conducted at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).
"Exercise Hua Shan" was co-directed by the Department of Health (DH) and Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA). It tested coordination and cooperation among various government departments and the airport community in responding to a public health emergency originating at HKIA with a view to enhancing preparedness and awareness.
The exercise, started at 2300 hours last night, simulated an outbound flight carrying approximately 100 passengers and crew members. An air passenger began feeling ill shortly after takeoff, raising suspicion that he was potentially carrying a severe infectious disease. The plane subsequently returned to Hong Kong. The aircraft then landed and was directed to park at a designated remote bay.
After the Duty Port Health Officer boarded the plane to assess the health condition of the patient, as well as other passengers and crew that might have come into close contact with the patient, a Public Health Incident Assessment Group meeting was convened. The Airport Emergency Centre was also activated to coordinate contingency response.
The sick passenger was then transferred to hospital while passengers and crew in close contact were taken to a temporary holding area at the restricted area of the airport.
After the passenger was confirmed to be suffering from an infectious disease, the passengers and crew in close contact were quarantined.
The exercise stood down at around 0400 hours today when all contact tracing and response measures were satisfactorily completed and the situation was brought under control.
Around 20 organisations and approximately 400 people participated in the exercise. Dragonair provided an aircraft for use. Seventeen representatives from Mainland and Macao health authorities participated as observers.
The Head, Emergency Response and Information Branch of the Department of Health, Dr Sarah Choi, said communications and coordination among various departments and organisations, epidemiological investigation, contact tracing, and control measures, were examined and reviewed.
"The experience gained from the exercise will help Hong Kong to be better prepared for public health challenges arising from major infectious diseases," she said.
Mr C K Ng, Deputy Director, Airport Operations of Airport Authority Hong Kong, said, "We manage one of the busiest airports worldwide. It is vital for us to maintain HKIA as a healthy and safe place for all passengers. We must stay vigilant at all times against any potential outbreak of infectious diseases. Today’s exercise gave all relevant parties an excellent opportunity to enhance their contingency response."
Mr Ng added that to tie in with the government’s approach for managing contagious diseases, the AA in 2005 developed the Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan, comprising a three-level response system. It was subsequently tested and refined following numerous exercises and drills organised by the AA.
Medical staff assesses the health condition of the patient on board.
Medical staff accesses other passengers that might have come into close contact with the sick patient.
The sick passenger is transferred to hospital.
Passengers and crew members in close contact with the sick passenger are taken to a temporary holding area at the restricted area of the airport for further quarantine.
The Airport Emergency Centre is activated to coordinate emergency response.
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