COVID-19 and Community Action

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Community Action against Public Health Crisis: Lessons learnt from COVID and embedding the Healthy Setting framework as community care system

Professor Albert LEE *

MB BS (Lond) MD (CUHK) MPH LLB (Hons-Lond) LLM (Arb &DR) FRCP (Lond & Ireland) HonFFPH (UK) FRACGP (Aus) FCIArb (UK) FACLM (Aus) FCLM (US) FHKAM(FamMed) M.EduRes & Prof.Study( Bristol) Accredited Mediator (CEDR-UK)


This part of world (Asia Pacific region) is very unique which has greatest diversity in terms of socio-economic status. We have high income countries/territories that are well developed such as Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan (GDP per capita well above US$ 20,000).1 There are countries with fast growing economy such as China, Indonesia also with large population. There are countries/territories with small population, pacific Islands. There are low-income countries such as Laos, Cambodia (GDP per capital below US$3,000).2 Conflicting views will arise with implementation of effective public health measures such as physical distancing, quarantine and isolation, and other ‘shut down’ measures. There are also different reasons to impose hygiene measures such as respiratory hygiene by face mask wearing and cut down social gathering, and hand hygiene measures by handwashing or use of sanitisers. Reasons can be opposition to restriction of personal freedom and free movements, lack of resources, shortage of supplies, diminution of jobs and income, and impact of economy. This reflects the importance of advancement of health literacy for both policy makers and community. The whole society still has narrow vision of public health without understanding the boarder dimensions of health promotion improving health into context of everyday life. If root of health promotion is implanted early on in life and continue to grow with personal development, the whole society would come to consensus with public health emergency and more supportive of managing determinants of health.

This is the core value of health promotion in different settings where people live, work, play and spending most of their time paving the way for health promotion facing emerging public health crisis for time to time. Would health promotion within the context of daily living play any role in tackling the different scale clusters of outbreaks of COVID-19 in different countries/territories in different continents, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Iran, Korea, Spain. 3

Hospital setting only handles tip of iceberg of health problems but consuming over 90% of health expenditure.4 With COVID-19, about 80% of cases are mild and would be managed at home if they do not have co-morbid conditions.5 Remote assessment in primary care is possible with video conference which would facilitate some basic assessment.6 Primary care providers delivering whole person care with continuing relationship with patients and family members can effectively promote health fitting into context of their daily lives. Primary care providers would also act as resource persons in the community as well as looking after other illness and sickness.7 This would have big impact in building resiliency in the community.

During the outbreak of infectious disease, it is understandable to put focus on acute healthcare. However, the actions in community would help to cater the needs of majority of local population only if the community has well-established infra-structure for “Healthy Setting” approach to link primary health care with school, municipality and workplace to become the health resource hub for the community for primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. The next few sections are intended to be practical guides for settings such as primary healthcare, municipalities, schools and workplace to take proactive role in applying principles of health promotion in managing health crisis situation in the localities. This practical guide adopts bullet points format so step by step approach can be possible.

Section 1 discusses setting up community care system not just for crisis situation and also a long term sustainable community based care delivery model reserving the capacity of hospitals for critical conditions. Many preventive measures do need actions at local level to facilitate implementation. The Central Government would formulate relevant public policies and establish the relevant legislations, regulations and rules as central authority and delegate to local municipalities the authority to implement accordingly. This fits in the concept of Healthy City that the local authority engages the key stakeholders and identifies the local resources for related health actions. This would enable effective measures to be in place at the right time targeting the right persons in needs. Section 2 will focus on municipal response to health crisis and also for local municipality to establish an infrastructure for effective implementation of health promotion actions in near future.

School setting is learning community not just for students and also community. Advancing health literacy for students will have impact on whole community to be more responsive to the determinants of health. School being microcosm of the community and health actions in school setting would transfer the knowledge and skills to community. While good community care system can look one vulnerable population group, the elderly, the school setting would cater the needs for young children. This would put pressure and stress off form working population group. Section 3 will illustrate the role of school setting.

Human resource is asset to workplace. Quality human resource management cannot be in place without maintaining high quality of health and well-being for staff. Section 4 discusses how corporates would help their employees during health crisis period. This section will also conclude how different settings in the community would act in synergy to control the spread of infection.

Whenever there is an epidemic of disease, large proportion of population might not have received sufficient support to manage the emerging health crisis as most the efforts need to focus on those serious cases. If the appropriate community actions can take place adopting the principles of health promotion and health protection, this would help to reduce the incidence of the disease and reduce the burden of acute healthcare sector. It is time for community to start taking action to prepare for future health crisis.

You can access other sections for free by registering via this link. I hope you find it useful and happy to have your feedback and enlightenment.

Albert LEE   Email:

6 April, 2020, Hong Kong
© Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2020.

*Professor Lee is currently Clinical Professor of Public Health and Primary Care and Director of Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was trained as medical doctor at University of London (University College London-Middlesex Hospital) in 1984 with higher academic (doctoral and master degree) and professional (fellowships from academic colleges in Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, UK and USA) qualifications. He also obtained degrees in law, arbitration and education study. He was elected as Foreign Associate (Academician) of National Academy of Medicine, USA (election to NAM is considered one of the highest honours in the fields of health and medicine). He is passionate about global health, particularly on health promotion, primary health care, health and equity. He developed widely used toolkits and frameworks to enable effective promotion and inculcation of health in various settings, from the school level through to municipal level and up to healthcare infrastructures. He has published over 240 papers in peer-reviewed journals and over 180 invited conference/seminar papers. His contributions are also recognised by appointment as WHO advisor, Honorary Fellow of UK Faculty of Public Health (the highest accolade of the Faculty), and Award for Pioneer in Healthy Cities for Research by Alliance for Healthy Cites (AFHC) in 2014. He has been serving on Boards or Councils in Hong Kong and overseas such as founding Steering Committee member of AFHC and chairing the Scientific Committee of AFHC Global Conference in 2014 and 2020, and Organisation Committee of Chronic Care Conference in 2010 and Symposium: ‘New Perspectives on Holistic Rehabilitation and Social Inclusion towards 2030’ in 2019, and President of Hong Kong Health Education and Health Promotion Foundation. He is member of Executive Board of Journal Medicine and Law, and editor of 2018 March Issue on “Better Education and Training to prevent Medical Mishap”.
1 World Economic Outlook. International Monetary Fund Oct 2019.
2 Ibid
3 WHO. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report. Access 2 April 2020
4 Lee A. Family Medicine and Community Health Care. In: Fong K and Tong KW (Eds). Community Care in Hong Kong: Current Practices, Practice-Research Studies, and Future Directions. Hong Kong: City University Press, 2014.
5 Wu Z, McGoogan JM. Characteristics of and Important Lessons from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA 2020;
Mcintosh K, Bloom A, Hirsch MS. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19). UpToDate, Last updated 16 March 2020, Wolters Kluwer. Access 26 March 2020;
CDC. Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed 2019 Novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (2019-nCoV) Infection. Revision 30 March 2020. Access 1 April 2020;
WHO. Home care for patients with COVID-19 presenting with mild symptoms and management of their contacts Interim guidance 17 March 2020. Geneva: WHO. Access 1 April 2020.
6 Greenhalgh T, Koh GCH, Var J. Covid-19: a remote assessment in primary care. BMJ 2020; 368:m1182 doi: 10.1136/bmj.m1182
7 Lee A, Chuh ATT. Facing the threat of Influenza Pandemic – Roles of and Implications to General Practitioners. BMC Public Health 2010; 10:661


You may download the recorded presentation via the links below:

  • Back to School 重返校園
    English version / 廣東話版
  • Appropriate Response from Municipality in Managing Health Crisis
    English version / 廣東話版