HONG KONG has declared a public health emergency, following the first confirmed case of the Swine influenza A-H1N1 flu in the territory. In Hong Kong, the top health official vowed to apply “draconian” measures to contain the spread of the virus.
A 25-year-old Mexican tourist who arrived Thursday afternoon in Hong Kong via Shanghai is the first case of human swine flu in the territory. The man felt sick hours after arrival and went to the nearest hospital, where doctors suspected swine flu and quickly isolated the patient.
Pandemic alert level raised
The swine flu virus was confirmed at eight o’clock Friday night. Within half an hour Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang raised the territory’s pandemic alert level from serious to emergency.
Dr. York Chow, secretary of health, says the Metropark Hotel where the tourist has been staying has been closed. Hotel workers and guests are now under quarantine for the next 7 days. Police and health personnel have been deployed to the hotel, located in the city’s nightclub area. The Mexican tourist’s companions are also under isolation.
“Since this is the first case in HK we must be very careful as the chance of controlling and containing this infection is limited,” Dr. Chow said. “We try to be more draconian in our policy. We still do not know how damaging or how virulent this virus will be and we do not like this to spread in our community and we do not like it to spread outside Hong Kong either.”
Health workers tracking hotel guests, passengers who may be infected
But health workers are still tracking other hotel guests and nearly 200 passengers who flew on the same China Eastern flight MU505 from Shanghai.
Chow says more measures will be taken in the next few days, starting with even tighter surveillance at borders. The Mexican tourist did not have fever when he came to Hong Kong but complained of sore throat.
In 2003, Hong Kong was struck by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, which killed 299 people in the territory and rapidly spread to several countries.
The government then was criticized for its weak and slow response to the unfolding crisis, which brought economic activity in the territory to a virtual standstill.
Hong Kong is ready
This time, Hong Kong appears prepared for swine flu. It has stocked 20 million courses of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, nearly three times its population of seven million.
This week, the government readied isolation wards at public hospitals, quarantine centers and stepped up public reminders on maintaining good hygiene.
The swine flu outbreak started in Mexico and quickly spread to many countries including the US, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand and Israel.
Health authorities in Asia have already activated pandemic plans Thursday after the World Health Organization raised its global alert to its second highest level, warning of an “imminent pandemic.”