Swine flu spreads to Asian cities

BEIJING: China was searching today for passengers on a flight to Shanghai with a man who was diagnosed with swine flu after landing in Hong Kong, bringing the disease dangerously close to the mainland and its massive population.

Authorities immediately suspended flights from Mexico, the epicentre of the global outbreak, and said they would dispatch a plane to repatriate Chinese tourists who had been due to return to Shanghai on Sunday. The 25-year-old Mexican man arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday from Shanghai, where he had transferred from flight AM098 from Mexico, and was admitted to hospital that night suffering from a fever.

He tested positive on Friday for the A(H1N1) flu virus, becoming the first confirmed swine flu case in Asia, as the disease continued to spread around the world.

China had “asked health authorities in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong to immediately put passengers (who had travelled) on flight AM098... under quarantine and a seven-day medical observation,” the health ministry said today on its website.

Authorities in Guangdong, the southern province that neighbours Hong Kong, said they were still looking for 11 people who had been on that flight, having tracked down 30 other passengers, the official Xinhua news agency said.

In Shanghai, authorities were searching for 15 passengers. A further 17 people who went on to Beijing had been located and put into quarantine, according to Xinhua.

The health ministry said it had also asked authorities to track passengers who had already gone elsewhere in China, as the nation entered the second day of a long Labour Day weekend, during which millions of people travel around the country.

In Hong Kong, the hotel where the Mexican man — who has not been named — had been staying was cordoned off and more than 300 guests and staff there were placed into quarantine for seven days in a bid to contain the virus. Officials in the city, which is officially part of China but enjoys a high level of autonomy as a “special administrative region,” were also trying to track down anyone who had been in contact with the man.

In particular, officials were working on tracing the 142 passengers on China Eastern Airlines flight MU 505 from Shanghai and the two taxi drivers who drove the Mexican after he arrived in Hong Kong.

Authorities said they had already found 13 tourists who were on the flight, and China’s health ministry said it was “tracking down all crew members of that flight to put them under quarantine and medical observation.”

China’s aviation authority, meanwhile, ordered one of the state-owned airlines to dispatch a plane to Mexico to bring back tourists who had been due to return to Shanghai on an AeroMexico flight Sunday, Xinhua said.