Hong Kong to launch new SARS probe

AFP , HONG KONG

Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 5

Hong Kong's lawmakers yesterday called for a new inquiry into the SARS outbreak earlier this year after public disgust over a government report that failed to blame a single official for the poor handling of the epidemic.

The health panel of Hong Kong's Legislative Council will set up a select committee to probe deeper into handling of the SARS outbreak and ascertain who was responsible for the failure to quickly contain the disease.

The call for a new probe into the outbreak of SARS comes after a long-awaited report by a government-appointed SARS committee failed to probe controversial issues or assign blame.

On Thursday an 11-member, government-appointed SARS committee released its report into the deadly disease, noting "there were significant shortcomings of system performance" during the initial phase of the epidemic.

However, the committee refused to blame any officials, sparking widespread fury.

The house committee of the law-making body is expected to discuss the suggestion by the health panel on Friday.

Newspaper polls conducted last week found most respondents wanted Secretary for Health Yeoh Eng-kiong to step down. Yeoh has been criticized for the government's slow response to SARS and accused of trying to cover up the extent of the outbreak.

Yeoh tearfully accepted responsibility for the system's inadequacies and apologized to SARS victims after the report was released but said he would remain in the job to improve the system.

The report found that the previously unknown pneumonia-like virus caught the territory unawares and stressed there was little more health experts could have done to prevent its spread.