The Chinese government failed to act quickly enough to curb the spread of the Wuhan virus, risking further outbreaks, a Hong Kong-based Chinese virologist has said.

Guan Yi, a virologist at The University of Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK

The latest measures by the Wuhan government – forbidding its citizens from leaving the city – came too late and would not help stop the virus spreading, Guan Yi, the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Center of Influenza Research, The University of Hong Kong, said in an interview with Chinese media.

A lot of people had left Wuhan over the previous week and many infected people carried the virus to other Chinese cities, Guan said, adding that the Wuhan government should have taken steps earlier to avoid spreading the disease.

It was likely a large-scale outbreak would happen with the number of infections 10 times more than the SARS outbreak in 2003, he said.

Read: China halts Wuhan flights, trains amid WHO talks

Guan said he recently visited Wuhan and found the hygiene in wet markets there was terrible, and less than 10% of local people were wearing masks. He said he was now isolating himself at his home in Hong Kong after discovering the Wuhan virus was out of control.

He said it was difficult to trace the source of the Wuhan disease as the municipal government had closed the Huanan Seafood Market early this month, while many research institutes refused to offer support. He said he had participated in tracking the sources of avian influenza, SARS, influenza A and the swine influenza, and had never felt hopeless, but he does now.

The Wuhan government has forbidden its citizens from leaving the city from 10am on Thursday. However, a total of 300,000 people left the city on Wednesday, according to some mainland reports.

In 2003, a total of 5,327 were found to have been infected with the SARS coronavirus in China, with the death toll at 349. In Hong Kong, 1,755 SARS patients were identified and 299 of them died and many suffered from avascular necrosis due to high-dose steroid therapy.

The Hong Kong government has been urged by medical experts to strengthen its preventive measures against the Wuhan virus after two confirmed cases were reported in the city.

On Wednesday, a 39-year-old mainland Chinese man, who was living in Wuhan, tested positive for the Wuhan virus after he was intercepted at a customs checkpoint in Hong Kong on Tuesday evening because he had a fever. His four relatives stayed overnight at the Empire Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui on Tuesday and departed for Manila on Wednesday morning.

Read: Wuhan man is HK’s first confirmed virus case

A 56-year-old man, who held a Hong Kong ID card, also tested positive for the Wuhan virus at the Prince of Wales Hospital on Wednesday. He went to visit his parents in Wuhan on January 10 and felt sick last Saturday.

He went to Shenzhen on Air China flight CA8279 on Sunday and took the East Rail Line to return to Hong Kong. He went to the Prince of Wales Hospital on Monday, but was discharged the same day as his body temperature was normal.

He tried to isolate himself from his family by staying in the Alva Hotel By Royal in Shatin. He went to the hospital again on Tuesday due to a continuous fever.

The second patient’s wife, who was living in Oceanaire in Ma On Shan, and two medical staff are not in quarantine.

The second case was special as the infected person did not have a fever but was found to have pneumonia two days after going to a hospital, said David Hui Shu-cheong, Chairman, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Hui said the government had to identify the loophole in its anti-epidemic measures.

Hui added that Hong Kong should launch health declarations for Express Rail Link passengers, instead of only incoming flight passengers. He also said that those who refused to disclose their illnesses should be fined.

The Hong Kong government should immediately launch a black travel alert to Wuhan, said Ho Pak-leung, the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection.

Center for Health Protection Controller Wong Ka-hing Photo: RTHK

Center for Health Protection Controller Wong Ka-hing said it was not possible to ask all incoming travelers to declare their health conditions as the number of travelers was huge. However, Wong said the government would consider launching health declarations for Express Rail Link passengers.

The Macau government on Thursday canceled its Lunar New Year celebrations, including a parade on January 27, to lower the risk of spreading the virus. Two cases, involving a 52-year-old businesswoman and a 66-year-old man from Wuhan, have been confirmed in Macau so far.

Macau chief executive Ho Iat-seng said the gaming city had bought 20 million masks for its citizens and had begun to check the body temperatures of outbound tourists. Ho said Macau could suspend the operations of some casinos if necessary. Ho also said he would lead a special task force to fight the Wuhan virus.

By late on Wednesday evening, the number of confirmed cases in China reached 571 with 95 in serious condition and the death toll at 17. There were another 393 suspected cases in the country. The Chinese government traced 5,897 people who had close contact with the infected, while 4,928 were under medical observation.

Read: China struggles to contain Wuhan virus

Read: International airports on high-alert over virus