HK hotel quarantine stirs up controversy
By Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters
May 3, 2009, 11:54 pm TWN
HONG KONG -- Travelers quarantined in a Hong Kong hotel for a week after a Mexican guest tested positive for the H1N1 flu expressed frustration on Saturday at the tough steps, while a medical expert said the authorities had over-reacted.
Police wearing surgical masks sealed off the Metropark hotel on Friday night after test results on the 25-year-old Mexican man were confirmed, ordering approximately 200 guests and 100 staff to stay in the hotel for the next seven days.
The measures taken by the authorities in Hong Kong underscore the concern here about the new flu and the confirmed case, Asia's first. Hong Kong was badly hit by the SARS virus in 2003 and has had many episodes of H5N1 bird flu for more than a decade.
Officials said no one would be allowed to leave the hotel in the Wanchai district, an area popular with tourists.
"It just feels surreal because you are trapped," said Juliet Keys, who arrived from Singapore on Thursday to attend a friend's birthday party on Saturday. She had planned to leave on Sunday.
"I'm fine but it is a bit frustrating because I have a three-and-a-half year old daughter (and husband) in Singapore."
Keys, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said she was given a health check and a 10-day course of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Health officials held a briefing for those inside, Keys said.
"People are pretty good. A few are emotional, frustrated at not being able to get out because of things like work commitments," Keys said, adding guests been given rice and some side dishes to eat.
"My friends brought me a laptop, books and snacks, so I will be okay," she said.
A frustrated Australian man in the hotel told local television by telephone he wanted to leave.
Brice Chevallereau, a French tourist, checked into the hotel on Friday afternoon but did not stay the night. When he returned to the hotel on Saturday, he was told by authorities he would have to be quarantined.
"Why do I have to go inside?" Chevallereau asked. "I just stayed two minutes in the lobby. It's not fair."
Journalists and camera crews massed on the street outside the hotel, which is being guarded by police and cordoned off with blue and white tape. Shops near the hotel were shuttered.
Twelve guests who had refused to stay were taken to a lodging house close to the border with mainland China. The site was used to quarantine Hong Kong people who were exposed to the SARS virus back in 2003, a government spokesman said.
Passengers Urged To Come Forward
The Mexican man arrived in Hong Kong from Mexico on Thursday following a stopover in Shanghai. He developed a fever after arriving and took a taxi to a hospital on Thursday evening. He is in a stable condition, officials said.
Authorities appealed for 142 passengers and crew on the same flight as the Mexican to report to health officials.
Lo Wing-lok, an infectious disease expert, said the government was over-reacting.
"He would have been infectious starting from the time he was on the plane. Think about all the people around him on the plane, while he was going through customs, waiting for baggage, in the taxi, in the hotel and when he got to hospital," Lo said.
"So how can it be effective if the government is just trying to isolate people in the hotel, it is a mission impossible."
Health officials said the "essential needs" of those inside the hotel would be looked after. They would also get regular medical check-ups and psychologists were on standby.