Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong buries fallen people's hero

HONORED Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was among the dignitaries at the funeral in Gallant Garden, a special 'heroes' resting place, of a nurse killed by SARS

AP , HONG KONG

A Taoist priest wearing a mask to ward off the SARS virus prays as pallbearers lay the coffin of Lau Wing-kai, a nurse who contracted the SARS virus while taking care of victims of the deadly disease in Hong Kong. Lau was given the highest honors at his funeral and was buried at Hong Kong's Gallant Garden, a cemetary reserved for residents who perish in the line of duty. SARS has infected more than 300 health workers in Hong Kong.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A hospital nurse killed by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was remembered on Wednesday as the "people's hero" at a funeral attended by Hong Kong leaders and dozens of grieving health care workers in white uniforms and surgical masks.

Lau Wing-kai, 38, died April 26, becoming the first frontline health worker killed by the disease in Hong Kong. SARS has sickened 1,646 people here and killed 193.

Doctors and nurses fighting SARS have become heroes in the eyes of ordinary residents, many of whom believe the government was slow to respond with quarantines and protective gear for hospital workers, who are seen as risking their lives to save patients and stop the disease.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) attended Lau's funeral but said nothing to journalists who were kept outside at the family's request. Health Director Dr Margaret Chan was seen weeping.

"He served the people courageously," said bystander Cliff Ng, a printing worker who was one of several people gathered outside the funeral parlor.

Hong Kong's health secretary said Wednesday that sewage leaks might have helped spread SARS in two apartment buildings _ matching a pattern from one outbreak that infected more than 300 people, though on a much smaller scale.

Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong told lawmakers the SARS virus might have spread through sewage pipes and dried-out water seals at Tung Tau Estate and Koway Court, where less than two dozen people are believed to have been infected.

Experts here concluded such leaks contributed to Hong Kong's biggest SARS outbreak, at the Amoy Gardens apartment complex, although the World Health Organization is now conducting its own investigation.

Lau's coffin was draped in the red and white Hong Kong flag as he was driven away for burial in Gallant Garden, a special resting place for people who die while performing their duties with exceptional courage.

The frontline workers have paid a heavy price, with 368 sickened by SARS, although 243 have recovered. Some went immediately back to work fighting the disease.

Dozens of wreaths were placed outside Lau's funeral, mostly by hospital colleagues, with one proclaiming him the "people's hero."

The World Health Organization outlined conditions Tuesday for removing a warning against travel to Hong Kong, which has hit the territory's airlines, hotels, restaurants and retailers with millions of dollars in losses.

Hong Kong's new SARS cases have been in the single digits the past three days.

But the Geneva-based WHO told Hong Kong officials in a video conference that the numbers of new cases need to come down further before the travel advisory can be eliminated, Yeoh said.

Hong Kong now has more than 400 people hospitalized with SARS, but the WHO said it wants to see only about 60 active cases, Yeoh said.

The WHO also wants to see new cases averaging no more than five a day over a period of three consecutive days, and Hong Kong needs to stop transmission of the disease in the general population, Yeoh said.

Yeoh said temperature checks of all passengers at Hong Kong's airport have helped accomplish one condition: That Hong Kong stop exporting the disease elsewhere.

One Hong Kong infectious disease expert on Wednesday attacked the WHO conditions as arbitrary and said it would probably take two to three months to get the advisory lifted.

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