Yuen Kwok-yung

Last updated

Yuen Kwok-yung

Yuen Kwok-yung 2020.png
Yuen during a NHC press conference in January 2020
Born (1956-12-30) 30 December 1956 (age 65)
Hong Kong
Alma mater University of Hong Kong
Known forResearch on SARS
Scientific career
Fields Microbiology
InstitutionsUniversity of Hong Kong

Yuen Kwok-yung GBS JP (Chinese :袁國勇; born 30 December 1956) is a Hong Kong microbiologist, physician and surgeon. He is a prolific researcher, with most of his nearly 800 papers (as of December 2020) related to research on novel microbes or emerging infectious diseases. He led a team identifying the SARS coronavirus that caused the SARS pandemic of 2003–4, and traced its genetic origins to wild bats. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he has acted as expert adviser to the Hong Kong government. [1]



Yuen graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong in 1981 with distinction in Medicine. Initially trained as a surgeon, he switched successfully to a physician and, subsequently, a clinical microbiologist. He worked at the United Christian Hospital, and after 6 years service, left to join a research team at the Queen Mary Hospital. [2] In the outbreak of avian influenza virus H5N1 in 1997 in Hong Kong, Yuen was the first to report in the Lancet about the unusual clinical severity and high mortality of infected patients, which could be identified by the in-house molecular test at his laboratory. [3] During the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, he led his team in the discovery of SARS-CoV-1, [4] and subsequently traced its genetic origins to wild bats. [5] For these achievements he was honoured by Time Asia magazine as one of its "Asian heroes of the year" in 2003. [4]

He has led his team in the discovery of other disease agents, such as the novel Human coronavirus HKU1 , bat coronavirus HKU2 to HKU13, Laribacter hongkongensis and many other bacteria named after Hong Kong or China. [6]

Yuen is currently the Chair of Infectious Disease at the Department of Microbiology of the University of Hong Kong. He co-directs the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Disease of China in Hong Kong. He is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (Medicine and Health section).

COVID-19 pandemic

Yuen is involved in the research on SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. [7] He was an early advocate of wearing masks even by healthy individuals, citing asymptomatic cases and a large number of virus strands in saliva of an infected person. [8]

Yuen's information videos on preventing the spread of the virus are published on the website of the University of Hong Kong. [9]

Yuen caused controversy when he and co-author David Lung published an op-ed article titled "The pandemic originated from Wuhan and the lessons from 17 years ago have been forgotten." in the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, stating that the trading and consumption of wild animals was a result of the inferior culture of Chinese people. The authors later retracted the article and apologised for the statement. [10]

In an interview with the BBC, Yuen accused the Chinese authorities of covering up the scale of the virus. He claimed that he alerted mainland health officials on 12 January 2020 to suspected human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2. This warning was not made public until 19 January. He also accused the authorities of destroying evidence: "When we went to the Huanan supermarket, of course, there was nothing to see because the market was clean already. So, you may say that the crime scene is already disturbed. Because the seafood market was cleared, we cannot identify the animal host, which has given the virus to humans.", said Yuen. [11] [12]

Yuen was one of the lead authors of an article in Clinical Infections Diseases, published in August 2020, which described the first proven case of a COVID-19 reinfection of a patient with a different strain of SARS-CoV-2. [13]

On 6 December 2020, during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, Yuen said that the wave had been expected and urged the public to remain vigilant with regard to social contacts on Christmas. At the same time, he expressed his confidence that the wave would remain under control if the city went back to the social distancing measures that had been in place in July. [14]

In an opinion article published by Kwong together with fellow microbiologists Lung and Kelvin Chiu in Ming Pao on 25 August 2021, the authors argued that it would be impossible to eradicate COVID-19 due to the constant appearance of new strains, as well as the presence of asymptomatic cases, which distinguished it from smallpox, the only disease which had been successfully eradicated. They urged Hongkongers to get vaccinated as soon as possible. [15]

On 22 November 2021, a public health investigation concluded with the finding that one of two cases of the Omicron variant at a quarantine hotel had likely been infected by the other. The first case had been wearing valve-equipped face masks, and sometimes none, when stepping out of his room, which allegedly led to a contamination of the corridor and the infection of a person staying in the opposite room. Yuen ascribed the transmission to the use of valve masks, which he called "selfish" by design as they did not filter the exhaled air, which he said was "not good". [16] On 24 November, the Centre for Health Protection forbade the use of valve masks effective from the following day, and exhorted the public to refrain from using them. [17]

On 29 November, a team led by Yuen succeeded in isolating the Omicron variant. [18]

On 23 January 2022, Yuen warned that if a recent outbreak with the Omicron variant in Kwai Chung Estate with over 100 cases failed to be contained, this could result in that outbreak to last up to three months and to have a major impact on businesses. [19] He reiterated his earlier statements that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was there to stay, and questioned the heavy focus of the government on zero coronavirus cases; the zero-Covid policy should be considered as a means to "buy time" to increase the vaccination rate, not as a way for anti-pandemic measures to end. [20] In relation to Chief Executive Carrie Lam having removed her mask after taking her seat at a press briefing a day earlier, Yuen assessed the risk of transmission in that situation as low but urged experts and leaders to "set an example" themselves by wearing a mask, as he himself would wear two. [21]

On 10 February 2022, Yuen suggested that, in view of insufficient resources to handle the pandemic, the infected with no or mild COVID-19 symptoms isolate at home and unvaccinated elderly, or chronic patients they live with, be moved to spaces at centres such as AsiaWorld-Expo to avoid cross-infection. [22] [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

SARS Disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory disease of zoonotic origin caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, the first identified strain of the SARS coronavirus species severe acute respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus (SARSr-CoV). The first known cases occurred in November 2002, and the syndrome caused the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak. Around late 2017, Chinese scientists traced the virus through the intermediary of Asian palm civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Xiyang Yi Ethnic Township, Yunnan.

Malik Peiris FRS, d'Honneur, is a Sri Lankan pathologist and virologist. He has been long based in Hong Kong. His research interests include ecology, evolution, pathogenesis, epidemiology of animal-human influenza and other human respiratory viral infections, authoring over 320 research publications. Peiris is most notable for being the first person to isolate SARS virus.

<i>Human coronavirus HKU1</i> Species of virus

Human coronavirus HKU1 (HCoV-HKU1) is a species of coronavirus in humans and animals. It causes an upper respiratory disease with symptoms of the common cold, but can advance to pneumonia and bronchiolitis. It was first discovered in January 2004 from one man in Hong Kong. Subsequent research revealed it has global distribution and earlier genesis.

Human coronavirus OC43 Species of virus

Human coronavirus OC43 (HCoV-OC43) is a member of the species Betacoronavirus 1, which infects humans and cattle. The infecting coronavirus is an enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA virus that enters its host cell by binding to the N-acetyl-9-O-acetylneuraminic acid receptor. OC43 is one of seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. It is one of the viruses responsible for the common cold and may have been responsible for the 1889–1890 pandemic. It has, like other coronaviruses from genus Betacoronavirus, subgenus Embecovirus, an additional shorter spike protein called hemagglutinin esterase (HE).

Rousettus bat coronavirus HKU9 (HKU9-1) is an enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA mammalian Group 2 Betacoronavirus discovered in Rousettus bats in China in 2011. This strain of coronavirus is closely related to the EMC/2012 strain found in London which is related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The MERS-CoV species is responsible for the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.

Guan Yi is a Chinese virologist. In 2014, he was ranked as 11th in the world by Thomson Reuters among global researchers in the field of microbiology. He obtained his PhD in microbiology at the University of Hong Kong and is now a professor of microbiology at his alma mater. His research on the viral respiratory disease SARS helped the Chinese government avert the 2004 outbreak of this disease. He is the current director of the State Key Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases University of Hong Kong. In early 2017, Guan warned that the H7N9 influenza virus "poses the greatest threat to humanity than any other in the past 100 years."

COVID-19 pandemic Ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019

The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is an ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The novel virus was first identified from an outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, and attempts to contain it there failed, allowing it to spread across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic on 11 March 2020. As of 9 February 2022, the pandemic had caused more than 401 million cases and 5.76 million deaths, making it one of the deadliest in history.

Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market Market in Wuhan, Hubei, China

The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, simply known as the Huanan Seafood Market, was a live animal and seafood market in Jianghan District, Wuhan City, the capital of Hubei Province in Central China.

Timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020 Sequence of major events in a virus pandemic

This article documents the chronology and epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in January 2020, the virus which causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The first human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China Ongoing COVID-19 viral pandemic in mainland China

The COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). China was the first country to experience an outbreak of the disease, the first to impose drastic measures in response, and one of the first countries to bring the outbreak under control.

COVID-19 misinformation False or misleading information about COVID-19

COVID-19 misinformation refers to misinformation and conspiracy theories about the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease COVID-19, which is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messaging, and mass media. False information has been propagated by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent public figures. Multiple countries have passed laws against "fake news", and thousands of people have been arrested for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. The spread of COVID-19 misinformation by governments has also been significant.

COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong Ongoing COVID-19 viral pandemic in Hong Kong

The COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Hong Kong on 23 January 2020. Confirmed cases were generally transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital's Infectious Disease Centre for isolation and centralized treatment. On 5 February, after a five-day strike by front-line medical workers, the Hong Kong government closed all but three border control points – Hong Kong International Airport, Shenzhen Bay Control Point, and Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge Control Point remaining open.

COVID-19 pandemic in Kiribati

The COVID-19 pandemic in Kiribati is part of the ongoing worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The virus was confirmed to have reached Kiribati on 18 May 2021.

Leo Poon (潘烈文) is the Head of the Division of Public Health Laboratory Science of the University of Hong Kong. In July 2020, Professor Malik Peiris stepped down from the position of Co-Director of the joint research pole between Hong Kong University and the Pasteur Institute (HKU-Pasteur), and Professor Leo Poon succeeded to this crucial WHO recognized Centre. He is one of the worlds' leading scientists investigating the emergence of viral diseases transferring from animals to humans, such as new strains of Influenza viruses and coronaviruses. Along with colleagues in his Division, he has made major contributions to the understanding of disease causes, diagnostic testing, and epidemiological control of these pandemic viral diseases.

Timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 Sequence of major events in a virus pandemic

This article documents the chronology and epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in 2019, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The first human cases of COVID-19 known to have been identified were in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019.

COVID-19 pandemic in Norfolk Island

The COVID-19 pandemic in Norfolk Island is part of the ongoing worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus was confirmed to have reached Norfolk Island on December 30, 2021.

Investigations into the origin of COVID-19 Inquiries into the origins of SARS-CoV-2

There are several ongoing efforts by scientists, governments, international organisations, and others to determine the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Most scientists say that as with other pandemics in human history, the virus is likely of zoonotic origin in a natural setting, and ultimately originated from a bat-borne virus. Several other explanations, including many conspiracy theories, have been proposed about the origins of the virus.

COVID-19 lab leak theory Proposed theory on the origins of COVID-19

The COVID-19 lab leak theory proposes that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Central to the theory is the observation that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is in the same city as the pandemic's earliest known outbreak. The theory has also gained support because of suspicions about the secretiveness of the Chinese government's response. Scientists from WIV had previously collected SARS-related coronaviruses from bats; allegations that they also performed undisclosed risky work on such viruses is central to some versions of the idea. Some versions, particularly those alleging alteration of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, are based on speculation, misinformation, or misrepresentations of scientific evidence.

Chinese government response to COVID-19 Response from the Chinese government to COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China, the government of China has pursued a zero-COVID strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19. China was the first country to experience what would become the COVID-19 pandemic. After discovery of a cluster of patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology in Wuhan, Hubei Province, a public notice on the outbreak was distributed on 31 December 2019. On 8 January 2020, a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was announced by Chinese scientists as the cause of the new disease.

Zero-COVID COVID elimination strategy

Zero-COVID, also known as COVID-Zero and "Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support" (FTTIS), is a public health policy that has been implemented by some countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. This "control and maximum suppression" strategy involves using public health measures such as contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantine, lockdowns and mitigation software in order to stop community transmission of COVID-19 as soon as it is detected, with the goal of getting the area back to zero new infections and resuming normal economic and social activities.


  1. "Health expert inspects markets". news.gov.hk. 4 August 2020. Archived from the original on 7 October 2020. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  2. "時代的記錄 - 鏗鏘說:袁國勇 - 穹蒼看星". 香港電台 (in Chinese (Hong Kong)). 10 February 2019. Archived from the original on 9 February 2021. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  3. Yuen, KY; Chan, PKS; Peiris, M; Tsang, DNC; Que, TL; Shortridge, KF; Cheung, PT; To, WK; Ho, ETF; Sung, R; Cheng, AFB (February 1998). "Clinical features and rapid viral diagnosis of human disease associated with avian influenza A H5N1 virus". The Lancet. 351 (9101): 467–471. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(98)01182-9. PMID   9482437. S2CID   24198615.
  4. 1 2 Tsang, Emily (24 March 2018). "With vigilance slipping and a hard-pressed health system, is Hong Kong ready for the next deadly epidemic?". South China Morning Post . Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  5. Bradsher, Keith (28 March 2013). "Hong Kong, Shaken by SARS Outbreak in '03, Keeps Wary Eye on New Virus". The New York Times . Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  6. "Professor YUEN, Kwok-Yung". Department of Microbiology, The University of Hong Kong.
  7. Leung, Kanis (29 January 2020). "Effectiveness of virus drugs 'could be gauged within weeks' with tests to begin". South China Morning Post.
  8. Li, Isabelle; Zhao, Zuoyan (10 March 2020). "Q&A with HK microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung who helped confirm coronavirus' human spread". The Straits Times .
  9. "What preventive measures should I take other than wearing masks and washing hands frequently? (and other Information videos by Yuen)". The University of Hong Kong. 12 February 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  10. Cheung, Gary; Cheung, Elizabeth (19 March 2020). "Coronavirus: leading Hong Kong microbiologist retracts op-ed claiming pandemic began in Wuhan". South China Morning Post. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. Archived from the original on 20 June 2020. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  11. Mathers, Matt (27 July 2020). "Coronavirus: Wuhan officials tried to 'cover up' truth about disease, says expert". The Independent . Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  12. Smith, Nicola; Johnson, Jamie (28 July 2020). "Chinese authorities 'covered up' coronavirus cases in Wuhan and did not warn public of risk for a week, claims scientist" . The Telegraph. ISSN   0307-1235. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  13. "Hong Kong researchers report first known COVID-19 reinfection". Deutsche Welle (dw.com). 24 August 2020. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  14. Chau, Candice (7 December 2020). "Covid-19: Fines to rise to HK$5k, test kits roll out in MTR stations, as expert urges vigilance over Christmas". Hong Kong Free Press . Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  15. Cheng, Selina (26 August 2021). "Covid-19: Herd-immunity and eradication impossible, say Hong Kong experts; same-day jabs for students from Friday". Hong Kong Free Press . Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  16. Cheng, Amy (24 November 2021). "A Hong Kong quarantine hotel guest went maskless and wore a 'selfish' valve mask. His neighbor got covid". Washington Post . Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  17. Magramo, Kathleen (24 November 2021). "Coronavirus: Hong Kong bans 'selfish' valve-style masks from Covid-19 quarantine hotels". South China Morning Post . Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  18. "HKU research team isolates Omicron variant". RTHK. 1 December 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  19. "It may take three months before fifth wave comes under control: Yuen Kwok-yung". The Standard . 23 January 2022. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  20. Lee, Peter (24 January 2022). "Fixating on zero Covid is 'useless' says top Hong Kong microbiologist, focus on vaccination rate instead". Hong Kong Free Press . Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  21. "Covid-19: Leaders should wear masks to set an example, says top expert as Lam shuns masks at press cons". Hong Kong Free Press . 24 January 2022. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  22. "Patients stay home, their families go to camp: expert". RTHK . 10 February 2022. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
  23. Lee, Peter (10 February 2022). "Covid-19: Hong Kong's leader apologises over long waits for tests and quarantine, as new social distancing rules kick in". Hong Kong Free Press . Retrieved 10 February 2022.