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Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 09:09

HK imposes health checks for travelers

By Timothy Chui
HK imposes health checks for travelers
An infection control notice about Middle East respiratory syndrome is posted at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Travelers will face blanket health checks for flu-like symptoms and receive stern warnings about omissions on health declarations, as Hong Kong struggles with uncooperative South Korean health officials in tracing and containing MERS virus cases.

"We are concerned about a lack of transparency by Korean authorities. We still cannot obtain information about the healthcare institutions involved," Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man told reporters on Tuesday.

Based on recommendations from the Centre for Health Protection and the Hospital Authority at a meeting on Monday, the additional measures were adopted, Ko said.

Travelers with fevers or respiratory symptoms will undergo health assessments and must sign affidavits confirming their health condition. Signatories will be reminded that providing false information is subject to prosecution.

Ko also called on medical personnel to suspend exchanges in South Korea, especially in Seoul, the capital.

Local hospitals have stepped up infection-control measures, requiring all patients and visitors to wear face masks.

The measures come after University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said health and travel declarations should be strengthened and provided in multiple languages to prevent any health threats from being lost in translation.

Meanwhile, a South Korean MERS patient hospitalized in Huizhou, Guangdong province, denied lying to Hong Kong health personnel while moving through the Hong Kong airport last week.

The man was allowed to continue after completing a health questionnaire in which he made no mention of MERS.

Hong Kong has laws penalizing people who fail to declare a medical condition upon arrival but has yet to see any successful prosecution.

Two South Korean women sitting close to Kim on the flight, both of whom defied calls to turn themselves in for testing, were tracked down over the weekend, joining 16 others being kept in isolation for two weeks. The pair face a fine of HK$5,000 ($645) and six months' imprisonment for contravening disease-control regulations.

Travel Industry Council Executive Director Joseph Tung supported tighter requirements on health declarations.

"It shouldn't be an inconvenience to travelers. We want them to realize that Hong Kong takes these matters of health very seriously," he said.

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