HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong quarantined a 39-year-old man on Wednesday after the city’s first preliminary positive result in a test for the new flu-like coronavirus found in an outbreak in central mainland China, authorities said.
The tourist from Wuhan came to Hong Kong on Tuesday via high-speed rail from nearby Shenzhen and was detected having fever at the border. He was in stable condition in an isolation ward at Princess Margaret Hospital, Health Minister Sophia Chan said.
The outbreak has spread to more Chinese cities including the capital Beijing, Shanghai and Macau, and cases have been reported outside the country’s borders, in the United States, South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
Nine people in China have died.
“I urge citizens not to go to Hubei province, Wuhan city if not necessary,” Chan said in a news conference.
She said the isolated patient came to Hong Kong with four family members, who spent the night at a hotel in the busy Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, before hopping on a flight to Manila earlier on Wednesday.
His family did not have any symptoms. The government was contacting train passengers who sat near him and they would be put under observation in isolation wards. A hotline was also set up for people worried they might have contracted the virus.
Chan could not immediately confirm local media reports of a second person with similar test results.
The Hospital Authority on Tuesday enhanced laboratory surveillance for pneumonia cases to include patients with travel history to all of mainland China, rather than just Wuhan.
Hong Kong had deployed temperature screening equipment at the airport and the high-speed rail station. Air passengers are required to fill in health declaration forms. Some 500 isolation wards at public hospitals were available, with more ordinary wards to be converted if necessary.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses named because of crown-like spikes on their surfaces. The viruses cause respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
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. According to WHO figures, 1,755 people in Hong Kong contracted the SARS virus at the time and 299 died.
The SARS virus remains engrained in Hong Kongers’ memory.
Many of the city’s residents wear surgical masks often, shopping malls provide sanitizers at receptions, staff at office buildings and condominiums clean door handles and elevator buttons several times a day.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd will allow all crew members and frontline employees to wear surgical masks and said passengers to and from Wuhan could change or cancel flights for free through Feb. 15.
Reporting by Hong Kong newsroom; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Raju Gopalakrishnan