10th anniversary of SARS outbreak: Shadow of SARS remains in an enduring nightmare

Shadow of SARS remains in an enduring nightmare

Mary Ann Benitez

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hong Kong may be prepared for new infections, but 10 years after SARS killed 299 people here – and was then overcome – some gaps remain in defenses.

The warning came yesterday from Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, a former controller of the Centre for Health Protection.

“Despite everything we did in pandemic preparedness, some unresolved challenges remain,” he said in marking the 10th anniversary of the emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

One challenge is limited knowledge about the behavior of novel pathogens such as the SARS coronavirus.

Ten years on, no vaccine is available to see off SARS. In fact, experimental vaccines could stimulate lung diseases.

“A SARS vaccine is probably at least five years away,” Tsang said at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health and Primary Care. “The sustainability of the health- care response will be a big challenge if an outbreak lasts for months or years.

And “community behavior is always unpredictable,” noted Tsang, who left government service in December. It can “change in the blink of an eye.”

Former secretary for food, health and welfare Yeoh Eng-kiong, who led the response to SARS and is now professor of public health at CUHK, said the crisis went beyond a health issue 10 years ago.

“Many countries saw it as a security issue,” he said. “Singapore did very well as it had the army to help tackle the problem. Eventually, China got SARS under control as it brought in the army.”

The chairman of CUHK’s department of microbiology, Paul Chan Kay- sheung, said that after much research into a possible animal reservoir of the SARS coronavirus no “persistent” host has been found, though early studies showed bats and civet cats were involved.

Chan said it is likely that recombination occurred in some animal species to create the SARS coronavirus but it could not survive for long in any one.

“If this theory is true, then it’s good news as there is no more persistent reservoir of SARS,” he said. Now, “we tend to believe SARS may not return because of a lack of a persistent reservoir.”

Leo Poon Lit-man, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, warned that if the SARS-like novel coronavirus that emerged in the Middle East last year continues to infect people it could adapt to cause another “disastrous pandemic.”

Although the novel coronavirus is different from the SARS coronavirus, he said, the bad news is that it already can infect multiple hosts such as pigs, monkeys, bats as well as humans.

Poon said it was “lucky” SARS did not replicate well in the first week of the onset of the disease, allowing for quarantine of patients and other measures.

“But if the novel coronavirus has a very robust replication early, we may have no such efficient mass measure to control the disease – just like flu.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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