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Hong Kong conducts Ebola drill

Authorities in Hong Kong conducted an exercise at an infectious disease centre on Tuesday to simulate the handling and treatment of a patient suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus.

HONG KONG: Authorities in Hong Kong conducted an exercise at an infectious disease centre on Tuesday to simulate the handling and treatment of a patient suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus.

The exercise at Princess Margaret Hospital's Infectious Disease Centre was the city's first Ebola-specific drill using first a real person and then medical dummies for staff to practise on.

The purpose of the drill was to ensure that authorities were able to detect a suspected case in the community in the early stages. It also aimed to check if medical staff had the proper means to handle an Ebola patient or a dead person infected with the virus, according to Liu Shao-haei, the Chief Manager of Hong Kong's Hospital Authority.

Dr Liu said: "We need to be prepared for any unexpected incident. As for infectious diseases, there is always a contingency plan in the public hospital system, and drills like today's exercise give the frontline staff and the management an opportunity to review how well we are prepared, and if there are any deficiencies, we are prepared to improve on them."

During the drill, medical staff in full protective gear got a simulated patient off the ambulance and took him inside the hospital. The staff used a dummy of a simulated Ebola patient to conduct medical procedures inside the hospital. The same dummy was used to simulate the handling of a dead person infected with the virus. The staff sterilised the dummy before putting it into a large box and taking it out of the room.

The exercise came a month after the city experienced a brief scare when a man travelling from Nigeria showed symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting but no fever. He later tested negative for Ebola. Health authorities were heavily criticised for the way they handled the case. Health workers were not wearing proper protective gear and the man was allowed to move freely before he was diagnosed.

The Hospital Authority is out to prove that it has learnt from past mistakes. All public and private clinics are now on the lookout for suspected Ebola cases. Once reported, such a patient will be met by emergency staff fully dressed in protective gear from head-to-toe.

After an assessment by an emergency doctor, the patient will then be taken to the Infectious Disease Centre where he or she will be isolated. A medical isolation unit will be assigned to the patient, and then a diagnosis will be undertaken.

No Ebola patient has been identified in Hong Kong since the Ebola outbreak started. Health authorities and infectious disease experts say that the risk of an Ebola epidemic in Hong Kong is low. There are no direct flights from Ebola-affected regions to Hong Kong. Moreover the city has experience in dealing with big epidemics like bird flu and SARS. Hong Kong is on an Alert-level response for Ebola, the lowest of three levels in dealing with an outbreak.