On 26 February 2003, a man (index case) was admitted to hospital in Hanoi with a high fever, dry cough, myalgia and mild sore throat. That was the day when SARS was first recognised. The man was then transferred to Hong Kong and on 12 March, 20 health care workers in Hong Kong developed influenza-like symptoms. Since then, the number of reported cases had increased daily. The brave fight against the disease continued for four months. On 23 June 2003, the World Health Organisation removed Hong Kong from its list of areas with recent local transmission of SARS on the basis that twenty days, which is twice the maximum incubation period, had passed since the last case was isolated on 2 June.
Hong Kong sailed through the challenge. As always, we are confident that the new challenge presented by COVID-19 can be overcome, even more effectively and within a shorter time, if we all work together, each doing our part to help bring it under control.
Protection of health is paramount, but it is equally important to remain calm to handle the situation sensibly, without panic.
As far as the Secretariat is concerned, we attend work as usual and maintain the normal operation of the Law Society, ensuring that there is minimum disruption to our work while taking the necessary infection control measures for the protection of our staff and members. Steps were immediately taken after the Chinese New Year holidays to enhance hygiene at the work place and to minimise the risks of virus transmission. We issued detailed reminders to staff to maintain good personal hygiene at all times and increased the frequency of office cleaning and disinfection in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Centre for Health Protection regarding office environmental hygiene. As an infection control measure, we put in place policies restricting access to the office area to authorised staff and visitors. Staff are required to self-quarantine if in the past 14 days, they have been to the Mainland or South Korea, have been in close contact with someone known to have been infected, have lived in or visited buildings, or have travelled in carriers like planes, trains or cruise ships where there were confirmed cases of infection.
On the basis that every department is sufficiently supervised at all times, staff may opt, as a temporary measure, for flexible working hours and lunch hour to avoid having to commute or go out for lunch during peak hours with the crowd. Further, taking advantage of the technological tools that enable “home office”, depending on the nature of work and on the basis that there be no disruption to our normal operation, an internal special work arrangement has been implemented to split the team into working in office and working remotely from home. This is an infection control measure aimed at reducing the number of staff commuting to work and being confined within an enclosed office area. As the development of the outbreak is still fluid, we are keeping these special arrangements under close review on a weekly basis.
Gathering groups of people in a confined place for relatively long periods of time is not advisable in the current public health situation. Accordingly, the Law Society has cancelled the large-scale events scheduled for February, including the Chinese New Year Party planned for 8 February and the Spring Reception for 10 February. These precautionary measures were necessary and in hindsight, very fortunately taken, as it was reported in the media on the same day for which the Spring Reception was initially fixed that there were confirmed cases of infection at the restaurant where the event was to be held!
The Law Society has over 100 committees, some of which have regular scheduled meetings. During February, committee meetings, where appropriate, mostly took place via telephone or video conferencing facilities. Nevertheless, direct face-to-face communication is still the most effective. Where in-depth discussions are required for urgent matters, physical meetings are convened as usual with appropriate infection control measures in place, for example, using a larger conference room to allow more space in between seats.
All in all, it is business as usual at the Law Society, except with the addition of enhanced infection control measures in place to protect staff and visitors. On the other hand, by way of risk management, we are also fully prepared for the worst with a business continuity plan in place in case of circumstances necessitating, for instance, a temporary closure of office.
These uncertain times will soon pass. Let us face it with calmness, positivity and fortitude.