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Hong Kong Ends Hotel Flu Quarantine


Nearly 300 people quarantined in a Hong Kong hotel because of the feared Swine influenza A-H1N1 have been allowed to leave after a week's forced stay.

Roads surrounding the Metropark Hotel in Wanchai district were closed Friday in the middle of the evening rush hour as the government vehicles prepared to transport nearly 300 people from the hotel.

Hong Kong health authorities closed off the hotel on May 1 after a confirmed swine flu case - a Mexican tourist who stayed there. It was the toughest measure taken in Asia to curb the spread of the virus.

Dr. York Chow is Hong Kong's health secretary.

"I believe that most Hong Kong people will feel that we have won the first battle, able to control the spread of infection from the first index patient," he said.

Hong Kong's response has been influenced by its experience with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) six years ago, which killed nearly 300 people in the territory.

Hotel guests and staff caught up in the quarantine initially complained about conditions inside. But as the days passed, guests said the atmosphere became relaxed and at times, festive with restaurants in the area offering free food and drinks. Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang has apologized for the inconvenience.

The hotel will be thoroughly disinfected and will remain closed until the health department certifies it does not pose any health risk.

The Mexican tourist, who is in stable condition, is the only case of swine flu in Hong Kong so far, but Dr. Chow says the city should not be complacent, because the virus continues to spread worldwide. Hong Kong's pandemic alert will remain at its highest, as at least eight suspected flu cases still awaiting test results.

Mexico has the highest number of deaths and infections of the flu, which is caused by a new strain of the influenza A H1N1 virus. More than 20 countries have reported cases worldwide. In the Asia-Pacific, cases have been confirmed in South Korea and New Zealand.

On Thursday, health ministers and senior officials from East Asia agreed to step up monitoring and prevention efforts against swine flu.




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