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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06HONGKONG777 2006-02-26 06:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Hong Kong
Cable title:  

AI: PRC PRESSURE ON HONG KONG; HHS A/S SIMONSON'S

Tags:   AMED ECON PREL KSTH TBIO EAGR HK CH 
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VZCZCXRO8923
RR RUEHCN
DE RUEHHK #0777/01 0570641
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 260641Z FEB 06
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5096
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HONG KONG 000777 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP AND INR/EAP
STATE FOR EAP/EP TWANG, EAP/CM KBENNETT, GWARD
STATE FOR G VTUREKIAN
STATE FOR M/MED AND M/MEDEX PETER WOOD
STATE FOR OES ANTHONY ROCK, OES/STC MGOLDBERG, OES/IHA
DSINGER AND RDALEY
HHS FOR U/S SIMONSON
HHS FOR OGHA - STEIGER, ELVANDER, BHAT
BANGKOK FOR RMO, CDC
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USDA FOR DU/US LAMBERT
BEIJING FOR DSELIGSOHN, CSHAPIRO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2016
TAGS: AMED ECON PREL KSTH TBIO EAGR HK CH
SUBJECT: AI: PRC PRESSURE ON HONG KONG; HHS A/S SIMONSON'S
VISIT TO HONG KONG

REF: HONG KONG 3520

Classified By: E/P Chief Simon Schuchat. Reasons 1.4 (B,D).



1. (C) Summary: During a meeting with between Department of
Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary Stewart
Simonson and Hong Kong University's (HKU) Microbiology
Department, renowned influenza expert Dr. Robert Webster
(strictly protect) alleged that pressure from the PRC's
Ministry of Agriculture on Hong Kong's (HKG) Food and
Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) had prevented HKU
from acquiring samples of China's AI poultry vaccine. This
appears to be the first time that PRC pressure on the HKG has
interfered with local AI research efforts. Webster also said
that HKU is planning to release a study that will show that
the distribution of AI among poultry in China is much more
extensive the Chinese government has reported and will
"prove" that the lineage of AI strains in Vietnam can be
directly traced back to specific provinces in China. He
predicted the study would greatly displease the Mainland
government, and he expressed concern that this could result
in efforts to "get rid of" of him and fellow flu researcher
Guan Yi. End Summary

VISIT DETAILS



2. (U) HHS Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson visited Hong
Kong between December 28, 2005, and January 1, 2006, to
observe the state of Hong Kong's avian influenza (AI)
preparedness. He held meetings with the HKG Centre for Health
Protection (CHP), the Agriculture, Fisheries an Conservation
Department (AFCD), and the ChineseUniversity of Hong Kong's
(CUHK) Centre for Emering Infectious Diseases, and HKU's
Microbiology Department.

Meeting With HKU Department of Microbology


--------------------------





3. (C) HKU Department of Microbiology Profesors Robert
Webster, Malik Peiris, and Guan Yi tod A/S Simonson that
Mainland Chinese poultry vaccines have not been effective to
date and may have actually driven the evolution of the AI
virus. Corruption in China is in general hampering the
overall production of effective vaccines. Webster emphasized
the need for China to standardize its poultry vaccines,
pointing out that a failure to do so could negatively impact
countries such as Vietnam that purchase poultry vaccines from
China. Webster further alleged that pressure from the PRC's
Ministry of Agriculture had forced the FEHD to interfere with
HKU efforts to acquire samples of China's AI poultry vaccine.




4. (C) Webster also said that HKU is planning to release a
study that will show that the distribution of AI among
poultry in China is much more extensive the Chinese
government has reported and will "prove" that the lineage of
AI strains in Vietnam can be directly traced back specific
provinces in China. Webster warned that this action will
likely greatly displease the Mainland government and
expressed concern that there may be efforts to "get rid of"
of him and Guan Yi.



5. (U) Professor Peiris said that although AI remains a real
threat, it was "highly unlikely" that a pandemic deriving
from H5N1 would strike in the next year or two. As AI goes
off of the public radar screen, governments have to manage
public expectations and avoid backlash against the use of
large amounts of government funds. Peiris concluded that
public health officials, doctors, and researchers should work
hard to avoid the "Chicken Little" syndrome.



6. (U) HKU professors expressed concern about the growing
stability of the AI virus, noting that it could now survive
for up to one week at a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius.
They noted, however, that some new data suggested a low rate
of AI infection among poultry workers despite likely high
levels of exposure to the virus. This indicates that a
genetic pre-disposition may be necessary for people to be

HONG KONG 00000777 002 OF 003


severely affected by the virus. As for research on
anti-viral drugs, Webster said that laboratory tests show
that the H5N1 virus isolated from China is susceptible to
combinations of Tamiflu and amantadine or rimantidine and
therefore amantadine or rimantidine may be treatment options
for persons with avian influenza.

Meeting With CHP


--------------------------





7. (U) CHP officials briefed A/S Simonson on the structure of
Hong Kong's Department of Health and provided a quick
overview of Hong Kong's Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan
(covered in detail in reftel, also available at
http://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/
flu plan framework en 20050222.pdf). The CHP discussed the
planned March 2006 completion of their Communicable Disease
Information System (CDIS), which is designed to pull together
various sources of communicable disease data and merge them
into a central "data warehouse." This data would be used to
organize emergency response and planning efforts for any
prospective pandemic disease situation. CHP Controller Dr.
P.Y. Leung pointed out that Mainland China already has a
similar system in place and said that CDIS may be able to
connect to the Mainland system. The CHP hopes to deploy CDIS
by the end of 2007 and start full operation of the system by


2008.



8. (U) Leung agreed with A/S Simonson's view that
non-pharmaceutical intervention measures (hand washing,
social distancing, etc.) were vitally important in the fight
against AI. In the event of a full blown pandemic, he
continued, the HKG will try to encourage people to use social
distancing measures and otherwise try to live as normally as
possible. Towards that aim, the CHP has met with various
public utilities, businesses, and other private sector
entities to help them set up business continuity plans. As
for possible border closures, Leung said that the HKG would
be very reluctant to restrict travel; even if the borders
closed, he explained, the HKG would not be able to deny Hong
Kong residents the right to return home.



9. (C) When asked about the HKG's contributions towards
international efforts against AI, Leung said that Hong Kong's
first priority was cooperating with Mainland China,
especially Guangdong Province, against the spread of AI in
the country. Leung said that the CHP enjoyed good working
relations with the PRC government, engaging frequently in
exchanges of information with the Ministry of Health and
health officials in Guangdong. He added that doctors and
researchers in Hong Kong also have extensive informal
networks through which they can obtain information.

Visit To CUHK Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases


--------------------------



--------------------------





10. (U) Flu Researchers at CUHK's Centre for Emerging
Infectious Diseases focus more on directly applicable
clinical research as opposed to the molecular level
laboratory-focused research being done by their colleagues at
HKU. Some of the research projects that CUHK is currently
working on include ventilation in hospital rooms, oxygen flow
rates through different types of masks, duration of viral
shedding, and syndromic surveillance.



11. (U) CUHK Microbiology Professor Paul Chan emphasized the
importance of providing more training on the importance of
infection control. (Note: HKU professors criticized the
CUHK-affiliated Prince of Wales Hospital for poor infection
control practices during SARS which led to high infection
rates among hospital staff there. End note.) Chan said that
key factors in infection control included setting safe
distances between beds, preventing symptomatic health care
workers from reporting to duty, and making sure that there
were exhaust fans in every ward to provide adequate
ventilation. CUHK professors also lamented the lack of
foreign AI or pandemic flu "investments" in Hong Kong and
hoped for improvements in the situation.

HONG KONG 00000777 003 OF 003



Meeting With AFCD


--------------------------





12. (U) AFCD officials gave A/S Simonson an overview of the
animal control measures that the HKG has implemented to
combat the threat of AI (measures detailed in Hong Kong's
Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan, also see reftel). AFCD
Assistant Director Thomas Sit said that the H5N1 virus
evolves quite slowly in birds and appears to have reached a
fairly stable stage in its evolutionary progression. Sit
concluded that AI situation in the region is currently quiet
and stable.



13. (U) This cable has been cleared with HHS A/S Simonson.
Sakaue