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Name Bharat R Sharma

Role No: EWD5009

IMC Assignment
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Q: How did the Government communicate the facts of situations?

A:
• From November 1997, the Government Information Services maintained the
Government information centre services web page. It contained major
Government and quasi-Government decisions and announcements, suggested
preventive measures and provided Government official speeches and outlines
press conferences. In addition, updated information on confirmed and suspected
cases of bird flu was regularly published. The Government considered it an
invaluable single access point for information published by officials and quasi
officials’ organization in Hong Kong.

• The first briefing to representatives of consuls general regarding bird flu was
conducted by Katherine Fok, from Hong Kong Government. The prime objective
for the briefing was to reassure foreign representative that it was safe for
overseas visitors to come to Hong Kong. The briefing also covered the measures
that had been taken by the Government to prevent further spread of virus. WHO
findings were presented and Mrs. Fok also stressed that no countries had
imposed travel restrictions or quarantine measures on Hong Kong. She had
reassured representatives that efforts were being made to devise a surveillance
system to ensure further chicken and poultry imports to Hong Kong were H5N1
virus free.

• The Government had no answers to the numerous questions raised by the public,
medical professionals, the poultry industry and other stakeholders.

Q: What actions did the Government take to alleviate the situation?

A:

• Government acted by setting up an inter- departmental coordinating committee

• Samples of specimen were sent to laboratories in USA, England and the
Netherlands that played an important role in global surveillance of the virus

• Director of Health advised the public not to panic as there was no conclusive
evidence that indicated the virus posed any significant threat to humans.

• International experts from the Center for Disease Control and the WHO and local
specialists from the Director of Health, AFD, the Government Virus Unit, and a
number of universities in Hong Kong were quickly assembled to form a taskforce.
The objective was to devise a plan of action, and to investigate the source and
characteristics of H5N1.

• The prevailing circumstances and the lack of a clear plan for managing the crisis
prevented the government from complying with requests for providing more
information. Since the start of the crisis, the Director of Health did hold regular
press conferences, and updated their WebPages with data concerning the bird
flu. The Deputy Director of Health stated that “Apart from information supplied to
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the media, information and advice to doctors on H5N1 was also made available
through the Internet and direct mail. Progress of all on-going investigations,
however, had been slow. But the most formidable problem was that the
government simply did not have the information required and requested by the
public.

• From November 1997, the Government Information Services maintained the
Government information centre services web page which contained major
Government and quasi-Government decisions and announcements, suggested
preventive measures; Website also provided Government official speeches and
outlines press conferences.

• Undertook mass slaughter of chicken and also announced ban on importation of
chicken from China. It also made an agreement with them that chickens would
be quarantined for 5 days before being exported to HK in future.

• Each shipment of imported poultry was screened by a rapid blood test, blood
samples from every truck taken and examined by A.F.D and seals the rear
compartment of these trucks after completion of the tests.

• Hong Kong health chiefs announced that they would authorize development of a
vaccine if the number of cases escalated and transmission from human to human
confirmed.

• AFD bear the brunt of executing the dubious decision of culling a huge number of
chickens without the benefit of relevant skill and training. Although their efforts at
catching and killing chickens provided brief moments of amusement for the
anxious public watching the proceedings

• The government’s only viable alternative was to continually broaden surveillance
in the hope that it would prevent, or at least stall, further transmission of the virus
until more conclusive data could be obtained. Even this task appeared to be a tall
order. Efforts at achieving this end were complicated by the involvement of an
increasing number of government departments that had found the bird flu
relevant to their portfolio. Co-ordination of activities of all these agencies became
a formidable task. Overlapping responsibilities and ineffective communication
among agencies resulted in conflicting information and clumsy piecemeal efforts
against the virus. It appeared that they were neither able to contain the
mysterious disease, nor curb the increasingly intensifying public hysteria and
concern over its origin and impact. The government had no answers to the
numerous questions raised by the public, medical professionals, the poultry
industry and other stakeholders.

• The government of Hong Kong was in drastic need of demonstrating its ability to
respond to the crisis. The controversy gradually subsided and anxieties were
alleviated through the introduction of tough new measures for hygiene control
intended to protect public health. At the same time, a comprehensive system was
devised for the importation of poultry into Hong Kong. The issue of providing
compensation had to be negotiated with poultry industry representatives, and this
required considerable skills and judgment. The industry agreed that with the
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introduction of higher standards, new equipment and techniques were necessary
to ensure appropriate results. After intense bargaining, the government finally
gave in to the pressure for increased compensation and for more flexible loans.

Q: How did the Government communicate these undertakings to an
increasingly hysterical public both locally and internationally?

A:

The response to the bird flu crisis was mainly bureaucratic in nature, and the strategy
adopted was to buy time and grope around for solutions, perhaps with the
expectation that the problem would resolve itself. This had resulted in a prolonged
period of confusion and nervousness in the community. Instead of taking the lead to
inform and provide guidance to the community, the public agencies were found to be
procrastinating and hesitating to take any action.

• The Govt. first set up an Inter-Departmental Coordinating Committee for the
purpose of coordinating the efforts of the various government departments.

• A Special Information Unit was set up to coordinate the interdepartmental
communications

• The Department of Health insisted that the World Health Organization had not
categorized HK as a city of high risk.

• The DoH prepared a fact sheet that explained the avian flu to the tourists, though
this was done only after increasing pressure from overseas countries.

• Press conferences were held, though this was done without any planning and
direction

• From NOV97 onwards, the Government Information Service maintained the
Government Information Centre web page. This web page contained the major
announcements, preventive measures, provided updates on Govt.’s speeches
and press conferences, and updated information on cases of the flu.

• Consul Generals of almost all the developed countries were briefed regarding the
bird flu and they were reassured about the efforts being made to keep
surveillance over the import of chicken.