The SARS Task Force has endorsed the measures taken by the Government to prevent and prepare for the possible resurgence of SARS, particularly its prompt action in response to the Canadian outbreak.
In its meeting today, members re-examined the measures as part of its ongoing review in the light of the recent outbreak of acute respiratory illness in an elderly residential care facility in Canada.
The committee was pleased to note that prompt action has been undertaken by the Government in response to the Canadian incident where 96 residents and 51 staff had been affected and 11 deaths reported.
Although the World Health Organisation confirmed Canada's findings that SARS was not the cause of the incident, Secretary for Health, Welfare & Food Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong stressed the need to remain vigilant with the preventive measures as long as the threat of SARS remained.
"We should closely monitor the health situation of elderly home residents by strengthening the current outbreak reporting and health surveillance as SARS is known to cause atypical presentations in the elderly," he said.
The meeting also discussed the setting up of an enhanced surveillance system for SARS and an early alert system to detect possible reintroduction of SARS.
The Hospital Authority will step up the monitoring of staff fallen ill with symptoms similar to SARS while the Department of Health will improve notification by elderly homes of ill residents.
At today's meeting, Dr Yeoh noted the progress of the review and agreed that the measures should be put in place as soon as practicable to meet unforeseen and future challenges as the Canadian event had already rung a warning bell.
These measures are broadly classified into two categories - public health and hospital services.
On the public health front, appropriate measures will be implemented in the areas of preventing the import or export of new cases; extending disease surveillance in the international and local contexts; controlling the disease; and enhancing public awareness of personal and environmental hygiene.
With hospital services, plans are in hand for enhancing the public hospital systems in the following areas: surveillance for infectious diseases; clinical management; infection control measures; care for the elderly; strategy for cohorting patients; infection control facilities; human resources capabilities in handling infectious diseases; and contingency plans in hospitals.
On the setting up a Centres for Disease Control-type organisation for the longer-term prevention and control of infectious disease, members noted various options are still being studied and the views of the SARS Expert Committee will be taken into account when its report is released in October.
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