Swine Flu, 350 guests in Hong Kong hotel freed
Songs of joy and scenes of celebrations among guests and staff as quarantine is lifted from a hotel where a Mexican tourist carrying the virus had stayed. But the authorities warn : “we are only at the beginning”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hong Kong claimed initial victory in the battle against human swine flu as the last of 350 people forced to spend a week in quarantine in Metropark Hotelpassed flu tests and walked free.

Guests and staff were confined to the hotel for a week after a Mexican women who had stayed there tested positive for H1N1. In order to avoid a case similar to SARS – 300 people were killed by severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in the area in 2003  – health officials imposed a rigid quarantine to avoid contagion.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang thanked the group for their patience, but was quick to warn this was only the "beginning of the fight" against the H1N1 virus, and health officials urged residents to stay alert to symptoms and pay attention to basic hygiene standards.

Cheers erupted as guests spilt from the hotel's lobby onto the streets flashing victory signs or others reading "I Love Hong Kong".  Saying "I'm free", one young woman guest threw her arms around the neck of a senior police officer and kissed him on the cheek. A South Korean tourist did a dance and sang an opera excerpt to celebrate his release.  The hotel will now close for a week for cleaning.

Alert levels against the virus remain high:  the World Health Organisation (WHO) is keeping its global pandemic alert at level five.  Japan and Australia have confirmed their first cases, Canada its first death: a woman of 30 from the province of Alberta, who caught the virus in her country. It is the first death outside the United States and Mexico, the only other countries where the disease had caused victims.  Swine Flu has so far infected an estimated 2500 people in 26 nations, with 46 deaths.