HK seals off infected block of apartments

HONG KONG: The Government here has sealed off a block of apartments for 10 days in a desperate effort to stem the spread of the atypical pneumonia after it was declared as the new epicentre for the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

In the past 12 hours alone, 88 more residents of Amoy Gardens had been warded for the disease bringing the total number of victims from the neighbourhood to 213 – almost half the total number of those infected in the territory. 

The health department initiated an emergency meeting on Sunday after the admission rate started rising rapidly and recommended to the government for Block E of the housing estate to be isolated. 

After obtaining agreement from higher-ups, health director Dr Margaret Chan then issued the order under the Prevention of the Spread of Infectious Diseases Regulations. 

ISOLATED:A policeman standing guard outside Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay yesterday.Almost half the number of those infected with SARS are residents of this housing estate. - AFPpic

The order requires residents of the apartment block to remain in their flats until midnight on April 9. 

More than 200 personnel from the health, welfare and home affairs department and police swooped down on the neighbourhood about dawn. They put police seal tapes around the building to prevent anyone even going near the building. 

Those still living there – about 50 of them – were caught unawares. Some who left for work before dawn found that they could not get back in without permission from the task forced that had laid siege outside their homes. 

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Dr Yeoh Eng Kiong, in an early morning press conference, explained that the isolation move was to protect the residents as well as to prevent them spreading the disease to the rest of the community. 

“Obviously, we had done this with our assessment and the decision has been made after considering all the facts. We really felt that because the source of infection appears to be in E Block and because most of the infections have been in E Block,” he added. 

Although most of those infected – 107 of them – are from Block E, three other blocks had also seen residents come down with SARS. 

During the isolation period, no one would be allowed to enter or leave the premises without express permission in writing of a health officer. 

Medical personnel from the Department of Health had started visiting the residents’ homes to conduct health inspections for them. Residents will be provided three meals a day free of charge.  

Staff of the Home Affairs Department also briefed residents on the detailed arrangements to take care of their daily needs.  

Dr Yeoh said his officers believed, a man, who is now hospitalised with SARS, spread the disease to Amoy Gardens when he visited his brother. 

While Dr Yeoh and his team were preparing to seal off the place on Sunday night, over 100 residents held an emergency meeting in a nearby park to de-mand that the government acts quickly. 

One resident reminded her neighbours not to move out in their panic to avoid the infection, as they would only be spreading the disease to other areas.  

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