Hong Kong Reports Asia's 1st Confirmed Swine Flu Case

HONG KONG (AP) - A Mexican tourist visiting Hong Kong was diagnosed with swine flu Friday in Asia's first confirmed case of the disease.

Officials ordered a weeklong quarantine of the Metropark Hotel where the 25-year-old man stayed and started tracking down his recent contacts. The hotel has about 200 guests and 100 staff, Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said.

Health workers wearing full body suits and police officers wearing masks and gloves guarded the building. Hotel staff inside were also wearing masks.

The patient, who flew to Hong Kong via Shanghai on China Eastern Airlines flight MU 505, developed a fever after arriving in the territory Thursday afternoon, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang told reporters. The patient, whose diagnosis was confirmed by Hong Kong's Health Department and the University of Hong Kong, has been isolated in a hospital and is in stable condition, Tsang said.

The patient, who was traveling with two others, took taxis from Hong Kong's airport to his hotel and from the hotel to the hospital, but did not venture out otherwise, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow told a news conference.

But as a precaution the government has ordered a weeklong quarantine of the Metropark in the territory's Wan Chai bar and office district and will treat its guests with the antiviral drug Tamiflu, Chow said.

Later Friday, eight people wearing masks walked out of the hotel and into two ambulances and were taken away. Their condition wasn't immediately clear.

Chow said officials will also track down the 140 other passengers on the patient's flight, paying special attention to passengers who sat near him, and urged the taxi drivers who drove him to contact health officials.

The two others who were traveling with the Mexican and a friend he came into contact with during his stay have also been isolated in a hospital but have not shown symptoms of illness, Chow said.

While South Korea has reported three probable cases of swine flu, the Hong Kong case is the first confirmed in Asia, where governments have been stepping up precautions to prevent its spread from other parts of the world.

In the Pacific, New Zealand has reported four lab-confirmed swine flu cases and 12 other probable cases.

Nearly 170 people suspected of having swine flu have died in Mexico, and more than 3,000 have been sickened. One toddler has died in the United States, and half a dozen countries in Europe have confirmed cases, as do Canada and Israel.

In contrast with its tough measures Friday, the Hong Kong government was accused of responding slowly when the city was hit by SARS in 2003. Severe acute respiratory syndrome spread to the territory from southern China when an infected doctor checked into a Hong Kong hotel. He later died in a local hospital, but not before infecting a Hong Kong resident and 16 other hotel guests, who in turn spread the virus internationally. SARS eventually killed more than 770 people, including 299 in Hong Kong.

"Given the current situation, I'd rather err on the side of caution than miss the opportunity to contain the disease's spread in Hong Kong," Tsang said.

But the Hong Kong leader also urged calm.

"All other public activities, including school, public exhibitions, sports activities and all other kinds of socializing, economic and business activities can proceed as normal," he said.

Even before the swine flu case emerged, Hong Kong officials had already stepped up precautions, screening visitors for fever and ordering air travelers to fill out health declaration forms. The government also launched a citywide cleanup. Public toilets are being cleaned every two hours and escalators in wet markets are wiped down every hour.


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