Life under microscope at quarantined Hong Kong hotel
HONG KONG |
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Cocooned in tiny rooms for a week, 300 tourists and staff quarantined at a Hong Kong hotel in the battle against swine flu have been painfully adjusting to life in confinement, while aching for release later this week.
Hong Kong's downtown Metropark Hotel in the famed Wanchai bar district was placed under quarantine for seven days last Friday after a Mexican man staying there was confirmed as the city's first H1N1 swine flu case as the disease spread to Asia.
Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang on Tuesday publicly apologised to the hotel guests for the inconvenience faced, but local health officials and experts have defended the measure as necessary to contain the risk of a community-wide spread.
With the hotel sealed off by masked police and buzzing with health officers in surgical suits, guests have kept largely to themselves in hotel rooms, undergoing health checks, taking anti-flu drugs like Tamiflu and venturing out only for meals.
"You're confined to a room. All you can do is walk to the lobby. You've got to do your own washing and there's just a TV, a computer and an iPod," Leslie Carr, a British guest, told Reuters by telephone.
"My trusted computer keeps me sane," added Carr who has documented the surreal hotel existence on YouTube and online blogs, recounting occasional temper tantrums thrown by guests, frustration at disrupted travel plans and more prosaic gripes like the poor quality of the food provided.
Despite this, initial fears and anger seem to have abated with no new H1N1 cases discovered in the hotel. Many guests are now counting down the days till Friday evening when they're due to be released.
"We try every way to make their (life) as tolerable as possible. Nobody wants to be quarantined but unfortunately they happened to be in the hotel at that time," Hong Kong Health Secretary York Chow told reporters.
Densely populated Hong Kong saw a downtown hotel become a key infection site during the SARS crisis in 2003 as the deadly virus spread to other guests, an experience which experts say may have coloured the city's tough approach to the H1N1 case.
Infectious disease experts say the hotel quarantine will provide valuable data for future possible cases emerging.
"It looks very draconian, but actually just shows that we're very careful," said Yuen Kwok-yung, the head of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, who advises the government.
"Under such circumstances it's very difficult to know what to do, and especially we don't really understand the transmission dynamics of the acute viral respiratory infection in a hotel setting.
"We know it very well in a hospital setting, we know it very well on an aircraft, (but) we're not too sure in a hotel what happens."
Feelings were mixed among experts as to whether China and Hong Kong were over-reacting and the measures were appropriate. Some warned against complacency, making references to the 1918 Spanish flu, which had two waves -- the first mild while the second caused some 50 million deaths.
"Yes they are appropriate," Raina MacIntyre, professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told Reuters.
"Pandemics can occur in two waves, with the second wave being more severe, so an initially mild illness should not be cause for complacency."
(Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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