A renowned doctor in Hong Kong told China Daily on Tuesday that the strike being staged by medical practitioners in the face of the novel coronavirus was "unethical" and "against humanity" to patients and society at large.
Leung Ping-chung, professor emeritus of Orthopaedics and Traumatology of the Faculty of Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, suggested that besides guaranteeing sufficient protective gear, the government should do more to alleviate the public's - and especially medical teams' - fear of the epidemic.
On Tuesday, over 4,400 medical employees of public hospitals were absent, as a protest to demand a full shutdown of the city's border and an attempt to "protect" their interests.
As a result, noncritical surgeries in some hospitals were suspended, while all public hospitals' accident and emergency departments and specialist outpatient clinics were able to provide only limited services, the Hospital Authority said.
Leung said the strike is beyond his expectation. He noted that no medical staff in Hong Kong back in 2003, during the SARS pandemic, left their posts, even if some people back then were dissatisfied with the government's handling of the epidemic.
Seventeen years ago, Leung was a front-line doctor at Prince of Wales Hospital. At the time, there was unverified news that some medical employees in Guangdong province had left their posts because of fear of the SARS virus, he recalled.
"We sneered at such behavior at that time," Leung said. He recalled that Hong Kong's medical team, together with the community, acted cohesively against the SARS threat.
Leung said he understands that medical workers today fear the virus. However, to protest against the government by neglecting one's duty runs counter to the dignity and professionalism of medical workers, as well as humanity, he said.
It's "unfair" to patients, their fellow medical staff, and the whole community, he said. "On the ground of professional conduct, there's no room for any excuse," he added.
Leung said he believes the strike was to some degree a political gesture, an aftermath of the anti-government protests since June.
He called on medical employees to show some patience with the government's measures of controlling the epidemic, instead of "hitting it when it's down".
"It's a time for all of society to show solidarity," he said, adding that he believes the strike won't last long, as it's "unethical", and people will find their argument "unfounded".
In addition to measures to isolate the virus from being imported and spreading, Leung said he hopes the government can mobilize resources in society to fight against the epidemic in a more professional way.
This includes working with non-profit organizations, the business sectors, and experts who have hands-on experience dealing with SARS, like Leung himself, to ensure a supply of protection gear for medical staff and proper treatment of the infected.
Leung also called on the government to make data and experience learned from the SARS battle well-known to the public, including the rules of infection, and the number and percentage of medical staff being infected, to alleviate the public's and medical teams' fear of the epidemic.