Hong Kong’s government imposed a controversial full quarantine on approximately 300 guests and staff of a hotel in the territory after a guest was found to have the A/H1N1 flu virus, an extreme measure to control the spread of the disease.
The move appears to be the first imposition of an involuntary quarantine in the global effort to beat back the new flu strain, which so far has sickened hundreds and is believed to have killed 176 people in Mexico and one in the U.S.
The order came as Chief Executive Donald Tsang announced late Friday that lab tests confirmed a visitor from Mexico, who transited through Shanghai, had the disease. It was Hong Kong’s first official case. Coupled with a confirmation Saturday in South Korea, the cases are the first known in East Asia.
The quarantine of the Metropark Hotel in Hong Kong’s Wanchai district, a four-star hotel popular among business travelers and tourists, requires guests and staff to stay inside for a week. As police in protective masks prevented people from entering or leaving, some guests waved to a growing crowd outside from their rooms. Other guests returning to the hotel ran into a scene of confusion.
The quarantined guests, who will be given preventive doses of Tamiflu, are free to move within the hotel, but are being encouraged to stay in their rooms and minimize contact with others, a government spokesman said.
Involuntary quarantines are a controversial approach to disease control. Some argue that they frighten people into trying to evade detection and are difficult to police. Others say their widespread use in Asia during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 was key to ending the crisis.