HK confirms first case of new H1N1

HONG KONG Fri May 1, 2009 5:43pm BST

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong confirmed Asia's first case of the new H1N1 flu virus in a Mexican traveller on Friday, prompting authorities to seal off the hotel where the 25-year old man had been staying.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told reporters the man arrived on a China Eastern flight on Thursday afternoon after a stopover in Shanghai.

He had a fever and went to Ruttonjee Hospital for help on Thursday evening, Tsang said. The Mexican is now in hospital in a stable condition.

The confirmation of the H1N1 infection was made by a laboratory at the University of Hong Kong.

"He didn't leave the hotel (except to go to hospital) because he was feeling sick," Health Minister York Chow told a news conference.

Two companions of the Mexican and a friend he met in Hong Kong were now in isolation wards at another hospital, he said.

Tsang said he had accepted the recommendation of government health experts to seal off the Metropark hotel in Wanchai district where the Mexican was staying.

Dozens of police wearing surgical masks stood guard both inside and outside the hotel late on Friday. Hotel guests were prevented from leaving while outsiders could not get in.

"I assure you the Hong Kong government will try its best to conquer the virus," Tsang said. "At the present moment, I would prefer to do it more stringently instead of missing the opportunity to control the spread of the virus."

Chow said the hotel had about 200 guests and over 100 staff and they would be quarantined for seven days. He urged those who were not in the hotel as well as taxi drivers who took the Mexican to the hotel and to hospital to report to authorities.

The drastic action left some visitors distressed.

Cinmei Sinaga from Indonesia was left standing for hours on the pavement with her eight-month-old daughter.

"I don't feel that they are doing anything to help me. I just need my passport but we cannot go to another hotel and my baby needs to sleep. I feel scared," she told Reuters.

The affluent financial hub on the south coast of China is widely seen as one of the best-prepared Asian cities to deal with the new H1N1 flu virus, given its experience in handling sporadic outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu, as well as SARS in 2003 which killed 299 people.

The order to seal off the Metropark hotel brought back memories of how SARS started in Hong Kong in February 2003. A doctor from mainland China who knew he had been infected with SARS had travelled to Hong Kong to try to seek medical help.

But before he could get admitted to hospital, he infected eight people in a lift lobby of the Metropole hotel where he was staying. Some of them then went on to spread the disease in Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and Vietnam.

To tackle the H1N1 flu virus, Hong Kong authorities have beefed up surveillance at airports and hospitals, improved public health response systems and stockpiled over 20 million doses of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu.

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret, writing by Tan Ee Lyn, Editing by Richard Hubbard)

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