Friday, May 1, 2009

China moves to curb virus spread

China says it will quarantine all those who travelled on a flight from Mexico with a man suffering from swine flu, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

The 25-year-old man flew to Hong Kong via Shanghai on Thursday, and was admitted to hospital.

Beijing said it would put his fellow passengers under week-long observation. It also suspended flights from Mexico.

The move came as South Korea confirmed a case of the virus, the second country in North-East Asia to do so.

Globally, 16 countries have now reported swine flu cases. Six countries have confirmed person-to-person transmission.

In cases outside Mexico, where the virus emerged, the effects do not appear to be severe.

In Mexico itself, officials have raised the number of confirmed deaths to 16.

Restaurants, public buildings and businesses have been closed for five days to try to bring the virus under control.

Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said the emergency measures were bringing results, with the numbers "getting better every day".

He said the next 10 days would be critical in determining whether restrictions should remain in place.

Some health experts say the strain of the virus may not be as deadly as first feared.

Dr Anne Schuchat, acting deputy director of America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that although experts were concerned about the possibility of severe cases, the majority so far had been "mild, self-limited illness".

The new virus lacked the traits that made the 1918 flu pandemic so deadly, another CDC official said.

Flights suspended

The virus was confirmed in North-East Asia on Friday, when authorities in Hong Kong received the results of tests from a man recently arrived from Mexico.

The government has ordered a week-long quarantine of the hotel he was staying in, as well as its 300 guests and staff.

Local TV footage showed police wearing masks guarding the hotel exits.

An Australian guest at the hotel said he was told to go to his room, though the authorities denied people were being confined in their rooms.

"They haven't told us anything at all," the guest told Reuters news agency.

"They told me I will stay here. I won't be allowed out and this is it. So I don't know what is happening."

The infected man arrived in the territory from the city of Shanghai.

China's health ministry said it had asked local authorities to put all those who travelled on the same flights as him - both from Mexico and within China - into medical quarantine.

On Friday Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu said the virus was very likely to enter mainland China and urged the country to prepare for an outbreak.

In South Korea, officials confirmed that a 51-year-old woman who had recently returned from Mexico had the virus.

They are testing a woman who met her at the airport to see if human-to-human transmission had occurred.

France and Denmark also both confirmed their first cases on Friday.

There is growing concern about the effect the virus could have on Mexico's economy.

Several US air carriers say they will cut flights to Mexico as demand falls amid concerns over the crisis. Tourism has plummeted since the outbreak was declared a week ago.

In Egypt, authorities are expected to begin the slaughter of over 300,000 pigs as a precaution. Experts say the virus cannot be caught from eating pork and there is no scientific rationale for the cull.