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Local flight tied to flu case in HK

Officials in Hong Kong yesterday ordered a week-long quarantine of a hotel after one of its guests - a newly arrived tourist from Mexico - tested positive for swine flu, Asia's first case of the disease. The Mexican man landed in Hong Kong following a stopover in Shanghai.

Hong Kong's flu alert level was immediately raised from "serious" to "emergency," the highest level.

The man was on a Mexicana Airlines AM098 flight from Mexico City that touched down at Pudong International Airport on Thursday morning, China's Ministry of Health said early this morning. At 11:20am, he took a China Eastern flight to Hong Kong.

Technicians from Shanghai's Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau boarded the aircraft and conducted temperature checks on all 176 AM098 passengers before letting them leave the plane and go on to their final destinations in China. No one was running a fever at that time, the ministry said.

From Thursday, authorities in Shanghai, Guangdong and Beijing have put most passengers who boarded the flight under medical observation. The ministry also asked local medical authorities to quarantine all the passengers on the flight for seven days.

The ministry urged local authorities to trace down passengers who had already left Shanghai for other Chinese cities.

Several Mexicans from Thursday's Mexicana Airlines flight were being held at a hotel where other passengers were undergoing health checks in an unrelated case involved a Canadian flight on which three people had fevers, said James Zhang, a Shanghai resident who was on the latter plane (See accompanying story).

The swine flu victim reportedly did not leave Pudong Airport between flights.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told reporters yesterday that the flu patient is a Mexican citizen who developed a fever after arriving in the city via Shanghai on Thursday. Tsang said tests by both Hong Kong's Department of Health and the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the man was suffering from swine flu, or A/H1N1 influenza as it is officially called.

He said the 25-year-old patient has been isolated in a hospital and is in stable condition.

Twenty-four Taiwan residents flew to Hong Kong with him before traveling on to Taiwan on six separate flights on Thursday, the island's health agency said. The passengers were urged to contact Taiwanese health officials immediately.

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

But as a precaution the government has ordered a week-long quarantine of the Metropark in the territory's Wan Chai bar and office district and will treat its guests with the drug Tamiflu, Chow said. Police officers wearing masks and gloves guarded the building. There are about 200 guests staying at the hotel and 100 staff working there, Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said.

Chow said officials urged the taxi drivers who drove him to contact health officials. The others who came into contact with the Mexican have been isolated in a hospital.


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