The surge in seasonal flu cases this summer has sparked widespread concern, especially among tourists.
Rumors have spread on mainland social media, especially via WeChat, that an influenza epidemic is spreading in Hong Kong, with the number of deaths, at over 300, surpassing the fatality rate during the SARS epidemic in 2003, hk01.com reports.
As a result, more than 330 tours, involving some 10,000 visitors, from the mainland have been canceled, Timothy Chui Ting-pong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, said.
The rumors were based on official figures released by the Centre for Health Protection, which said that from May 5 to Aug. 8, there were 474 severe adult influenza cases, leading to 337 deaths.
For children, there were 19 severe flu cases, causing three deaths.
However, flu activity in the city has declined since reaching its peak of 350 daily cases in mid-July to 130 in early August. There have only been three recorded cases this week.
Still, widespread reports about a “flu epidemic” in Hong Kong has spread across region, including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, resulting in delays in the holding of conferences and meetings in the territory, Tse Kam-ting, chair of the Hong Kong Inbound Tours Operators Association, said.
Tse said his group is doing its best to explain to tourist associations and industries in the region about the misunderstanding, and hopes the government will do its part in helping to clarify the situation.
Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong chairperson Wong Chun-tat said there has been no noticeable decline in the number of tourists coming to the city, but hopes that the government can help squelch the rumors.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board has received 18 enquiries so far from tourists about the “flu epidemic” and has clarified, though its international offices, that the flu activity is seasonal and normal, a spokesperson said.
Each day around 200 to 300 tour groups arrive in Hong Kong, and reached 400 on Aug. 6 and 7.
A tourist who identified herself as Miss Zhang told Apple Daily that she had worn a face mask when she arrived in Hong Kong but decided to take it off after seeing that nobody was wearing one.
During the 2003 SARS epidemic in Hong Kong, 1,755 cases were reported, and 299 resulted in deaths.
But Dr. Chu Chung-ming, an expert in respiratory ailments, said statistics on flu activity and the SARS epidemic cannot be compared because they emerged from different circumstances and have different treatments.
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