Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said he had been in "life-threatening situations" three times during his decades of anti-epidemic battles, warning that another pandemic would definitely strike Hong Kong in the future.
Writing for a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday, 66-year-old Yuen, one of six experts advising the government in the anti-Covid
fight, reviewed his experience in handling threats and outbreaks related to infectious in the city, including the H5N1 bird flu in 1997, SARS in 2003 and Covid
-19 since 2020.
Yuen, chair professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong's department of microbiology, said the first time he felt his life was in danger was when he proposed the banning of live poultry sales in wet markets due to the H5N1 avian flu, with the suggestion backfiring as merchants were up in arms over the impact on their livelihoods.
The second threat came during SARS in 2003, when he and his research team suggested a ban on the trading of wild animals after civet cats sold in a Shenzhen market were found to be carrying the virus. The suggestion once again soon came under fire as it was regarded as bad for local businesses.
Yuen felt vindicated two years later, when his team discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was carried by Chinese horseshoe bats.
The third time he received threats was while handling Covid
pandemic in Hong Kong, with wild animal markets again suspected to be the source of the outbreak.
He said the messages came following his comments about introducing a ban on live poultry sales in wet markets.
Yuen said most of the infectious diseases originated from wild animals and were passed on to humans through hosts such as civet cats or poultry, eventually causing the outbreaks.
He added that the city must be well prepared for a future pandemic.
"[We] must believe in science, and at the same time, take into account the public's mental health and economic hardship or else we will be paying a huge price with millions of lives at stake, and risk another economic meltdown."