Hong Kong health chief quits after damning SARS report


2004.07.07
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HONG KONG�Hong Kong health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong has resigned after a report sharply criticizing his handling of last year�s SARS crisis, chief executive Tung Chee-hwa said announced late Wednesday.

Yeoh, Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Food, was one of five top health officials who came under scathing attack this week following an inquiry into the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 300 people in the territory.

�I would like to announce that Dr. Yeoh has tendered his resignation in order to ease the resentment of the public and victims of SARS,� Tung said. �After careful consideration I have accepted his resignation.�

Tung, one of only a few senior government officials to be praised in Monday�s report for his response to the crisis, said Yeoh would remain in the job for three months until his successor had been found.

A legislative report released Monday said that Yeoh had performed his job inadequately, paying too little attention to SARS when it appeared in mainland China and issuing statements that misled a nervous public.

Former director of health Margaret Chan and Hospital Authority chairman Leong Che-hung were also found to have mishandled the outbreak in a six-month probe by Hong Kong�s Legislative Council.

The report blamed them for failing to recognize the importance of the disease when it appeared across the border in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou early last year, and for failing to take appropriate action.

But it praised Hong Kong�s much-criticized Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa for urging officials to err on the side of caution and suggesting that relatives of victims be quarantined�a step Hong Kong officials said they took only after carefully weighing the implications for individual freedoms.

SARS infected 1,755 people in Hong Kong last year and killed 299, throwing the territory into a crisis that sapped confidence and hit the economy hard.

Lawmakers found that both Yeoh and Chan�s performances were �not satisfactory� in their reaction to the epidemic, and that they failed to consider how well hospitals could handle an influx of SARS patients. They were also criticized for communicating poorly with the public.

Yeoh apologized Monday to Hong Kong�s SARS victims, their families and medical workers, saying he accepted responsibility for shortcomings, including misleading public statements that initially downplayed the severity of SARS.

Tung also correctly told officials to worry about public health before focusing on the economic damage from SARS, according to the 434-page report, which was careful to avoid addressing the role of mainland Chinese health officials in trying to cover up the extent of the outbreak. #####

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