Health Bureau (SSM) Director Lei Chin Ion said Monday the bureau had raised its response level for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) from “alert” to “high alert”. He also urged the public not to travel to South Korea for the time being.
The announcement was made during a special press conference in the Conde de Sao Januario Hospital Centre after Hong Kong raised its own response level.
Lei said that with the government elevating the level to “high alert”, everybody entering public and private health care facilities in the city will have to wear face masks.
Lei pointed out that the number of MERS patients in South Korea has increased. “We believe that the risk of MERS being spread within communities is increasing, so we are raising the [response] level from ‘alert’ to ‘high alert’,” he said.
“High alert” is third highest of Macau’s four response levels, below “serious” and “emergency”.
Lam Chong, director of the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), said the Health Bureau had implemented various measures other than requiring individuals to wear masks when visiting heath facilities. He said senior staff at the public hospital and public health centres would not have days off, while its hotline 2870 0800 will be available from 9 a.m. to midnight.
Lam added that all medical and health care facilities are required to report any serious respiratory illnesses to the Health Bureau on a daily basis, while the bureau would increase its storage of reagents from 300 to 2,000, and CDC staff would stand by round-the-clock to evaluate possible cases. He also said the bureau’s facilities near Hac Sa Beach in Coloane were ready in case that MERS-related quarantine measures were required.
“We advise people not to travel to South Korea. If necessary, please evaluate the risks and ensure personal hygiene such as washing your hands and wearing masks in crowded places,” said Lam, adding that people should see a doctor immediately if they have a high temperature or respiratory symptoms within 14 days after returning to Macau.
Lei echoed Lam’s advice, saying it was just a “suggestion” and not a “travel warning”. Lei urged locals not to travel to the country. He said the bureau continued to monitor the health of individuals arriving from South Korea at the airport, adding that about 500 to 700 people fly into Macau from the country every day. Lei also said the bureau had advised nurses not to join this year’s International Council of Nurses (ICN) meeting which is scheduled to take place later this month in Seoul.
Asked if the bureau had delayed announcing the latest developments of MERS, Lei said he disagreed and added that local health care officials had spoken to their Hong Kong counterparts and made their decisions on the matter after consulting the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Meanwhile, Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, who heads the Tourism Crisis Management Office (GGCT), said also Monday that the GGCT would keep communicating with the Health Bureau (SSM) over the current MERS situation.
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference about the annual international fireworks display contest at Macau Tower, Senna Fernandes also said a major Macau tourism promotion event which had been slated to be held in South Korea in the summer had been cancelled.
Senna Fernandes added that the GGCT was still working on establishing an outbound travel alert system.(macaunews/macaupost)