The Department of Health is stepping up vaccination efforts after 26 cases of measles were reported in Hong Kong this year – a figure higher than that of the previous four years.

On Wednesday, officials said seven of those cases involved workers at the Hong Kong International Airport and two were related to crew members of a local airline. The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said it will provide 1,300 daily vaccinations for people working at the airport who were not yet immune to the disease.

Wong Ka-hing
Centre for Health Protection Controller Wong Ka-hing. Photo: screenshot.

“Since an outbreak emerged at the airport last week, the CHP has attached great importance to the infection control measures at the airport,” said CHP Controller Wong Ka-hing. “To facilitate people who need the vaccination, the Department of Health has deployed extra manpower to provide an additional time slot starting today.”

“The CHP will closely monitor and review the vaccination progress for people working at the airport. We will continue to closely liaise with the Airport Authority to explore ways to further enhance the vaccination arrangements.”

As one of the most highly communicable infectious diseases, measles can be transmitted through the air or via direct contacts. The virus is characterised by a rash, fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes which can last between four days and several weeks. Severe cases can lead to organ damage or even death, according to the CHP.

Long incubation period

Wong also said on a radio programme that he expected measles cases to continue appearing at the airport and in communities, because it is highly communicable and has a long incubation period.

“The outbreak will not end in the short term,” he said.

The latest patients that the CHP has been notified of included three airport workers: a 41-year-old woman, a 25-year-old woman and a 23-year old man. They developed measles symptoms around March 21 to 23, and had no travel history during the communicable period.

airport departures
File photo:

Another two recent cases involved a 43-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man who developed fevers around March 13 and 17. All five of the recent patients were in a stable condition.

CHP said that about half of the 26 measles patients recorded this year were born outside Hong Kong, and “many” had recently travelled outside the city.

Airport outbreak

On Tuesday, CHP said that 1,655 people in total had received vaccinations at their airport location thus far.

The vaccinations were targeted at people who were born in Hong Kong between 1967 and 1984, those who were not locally born, those who have not received two doses of measles vaccinations and those who have not been infected with measles before.

However, local media reported that some airport workers were dissatisfied with the arrangements, saying that the vaccination quota was filled up too quickly.

“Not every staff member can [receive a jab] so early… we work on shift duty, and shifts can get switched around, so we can’t come here to line up,” one interviewee told RTHK.

The vaccination station started service at 10am, but a notice was posted at 9:30am saying that all spots had been filled.

Department of Health
Department of Health. File

A CHP spokesperson reminded the public that measles is a highly infectious diseases, which can be transmitted by airborne droplets spread or direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected persons. The incubation period of measles ranges from seven days to up to 21 days.

“Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent measles. Members of the public who are planning to travel to places with high incidence or outbreaks of measles should review their vaccination history and past medical history, especially people born outside Hong Kong who might not have received measles vaccination during childhood,” the spokesperson said.

The CHP has set up a hotline at 2125 1122 for persons who have worked in the Hong Kong International Airport Restricted Area with measles symptoms.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.