Sunday, May 10, 2009

Swine Flu in Hong Kong

While the world has worried about swine flu for the past few weeks, life in Hong Kong has mostly continued on at an even keel. Hong Kong of course has been the epicenter of pandemics before including the Hong Kong flu in 1968, SARS in 2003 and an avian flu outbreak in 2005. While the flu spreads, the weather here has been ideal. Typically Hong Kong is in the throes of summer heat and humidity by May. And if not heat, then monsoon rains are usually pouring down. But not this year. Skies are clear and blue. The sun is just warm enough and there is a slight breeze at all times. It is just the sight of others wearing protective face masks and gloves that makes one realize something is wrong here in paradise.

About a week ago, Hong Kong did have its first case of swine flu. The infected individual, visiting from Mexico and transiting through Shanghai, stayed at a hotel in Hong Kong one night before checking himself into a hospital. All hotel guests were quarantined at that hotel for one week and just released this past weekend with no additional flu cases. The hotel staff was moved to a rural campground that was cleared for use in containing the swine flu. Hong Kong authorities reacted quickly to the flu threat and it looks like the flu is contained here in Hong Kong.

The kids’ school is remaining open. Last year their school closed for a couple weeks with a local flu outbreak. We have all been anticipating that school might close but so far not. When entering the school, we all have to have our temperature taken. School nurses have also been talking to kids about hygiene. It just so happened that I was volunteering in Adam’s class when the nurse came to talk to Adam’s class. Royce’s class joined his class for the talk. The nurse randomly picked Adam and Royce to both come up and be the hand washing demonstration team. They were thrilled to have purple glitter spread all over their hands, representing germs and then try to wash it all off in front of their friends.

In our daily life, there are a few somewhat odd signs of the heightened concern. All elevators in our building now have a plastic sheet over the elevator buttons to facilitate cleaning. First the sign said the elevator was washed every four hours. Then the sign stated that the washing was now done every two hours. While there might be some small benefit to me from all this plastic sheeting, it is offset by the fact that the elevator buttons are heat activated and thus hard to push and make go through the plastic.

Even on my regular hike in the middle of the Tai Tam country park, there is a bit with concrete stairs leading up Violet Hill with a handrail. At this point. about an hour hike from any road, there is a small sign on the hand rail stating that it is disinfected every four hours. After reading the small sign, I saw two wild pigs, one on the trail ahead of me and another tearing through the brush off to my left. Maybe the cleaning of the handrail in the country park is a good idea after all. Who knows? Tori seems to have the right approach with her wash your hands a lot but keep smiling approach. Her joke is “How do you cure swine flu? With oink-ment of course!”


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