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Hong Kong frees 28 people who travelled with flu patient


Hong Kong : A group of 28 people, most of whom travelled on the same flight as a Mexican tourist who became Hong Kong’s only confirmed swine flu case, were released from quarantine Thursday, after health officials declared them infection-free.

The group, which also included two taxi drivers who drove the Mexican around the city, were given health checks before being allowed to leave a remote holiday village where they have been kept since last Friday.

Thomas Tsang of the Centre for Health Protection, said all of those released had been given thorough medical examinations.

“We are 100 percent confident their health status is good. They do not pose any risk of human swine flu, so I hope the community will treat them the same as any one of us,” he said.

The group were ordered into quarantine after the Mexican, who had travelled to Hong Kong via Shanghai, was confirmed to have contracted the influenza A (H1N1) virus Friday.

A second group of around 240 guests and more than 100 staff from the Metropark Hotel, where he stayed briefly, are due to be released Friday evening.

Hong Kong Deputy Director of Home Affairs Adeline Wong said the hotel guests would be given two nights of free accommodation in another hotel, plus tickets to attractions such as Disneyland, or transport to the airport if they wish to leave immediately.

The Hong Kong government took the radical step of rounding up people who may have been in contact with the Mexican tourist and sealed off the hotel on May 1 in a bid to stop the virus from spreading into the community.

Authorities are still trying to trace six hotel guests who have not come forward and who may face prosecution under laws concerning infectious diseases.

So far, no other cases have been detected, and all tests for the virus among guests, staff and fellow passengers have come back negative. The Mexican tourist has now recovered but remains in quarantine in a Hong Kong hospital.

The action to confine guests has been criticised by public-health experts and the quarantined guests as an overreaction by Hong Kong, especially as the threat of a global pandemic appears to be ebbing.

Hong Kong Health Secretary York Chow defended the move and warned against complacency toward the influenza A (H1N1) virus, which has so far killed 42 people in Mexico and two in the US.

York said his calculations based on figures from Tuesday had shown the virus had a mortality rate of around 4.3 percent.

“So, if you have an epidemic that causes 4.3 percent of deaths, it is something pretty serious,” he said.

Hong Kong was criticised for failing to act quickly in the early days of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

Nearly 300 people died and around 1,800 were infected when SARS spread to Hong Kong from southern China through an infected patient who stayed in a city hotel.