Hong Kong's history of pandemics led them to increase precautions against future outbreaks.

"The communication channels have improved between China and Hong Kong, health officials said, as well as better surveillance of the disease. Every visitor who comes through Hong Kong International Airport now is scanned by infrared monitors and immediately isolated if suffering from a fever or respiratory illness.

"Quarantine and isolation of people (suspected to be ill) is crucial now," Yuen said.

As the disease spreads, there is a conflict between the need for a quick response and the time required for appropriate scientific study — which can result in some bad decisions, Yuen said. For example, in the case of SARS health experts wore full-body protection suits because of initial hunches the disease was being spread by airborne causes.

More people were exposed to the disease because of the harried medical staff's improper use of the cumbersome equipment. "It turned out globes, masks and hand washing were far more effective" than a breathing apparatus, Yuen said.

Better preparedness against future outbreaks could instill confidence in the government's ability to combat health challenges and shield the economy from economic problems associated with future an outbreak."