Hong Kong Asks Students to Stay in America Due to Swine Flu
By Heda Bayron
25 May 2009
Hong Kong has asked students in the United States to defer travel back home if they have symptoms of the flu. Several cases in Asia of A-H1N1 influenza, the swine-flu virus responsible for outbreaks in scores of countries worldwide, have been traced back to the United States. Authorities have asked the United States to screen passengers taking international flights to prevent the flu from further spreading.
The Cathay Pacific flight 831 from New York to Hong Kong on May 17th carried 300 passengers. Two of them came down with A-H1N1 influenza virus - an Australian doctor who headed to Taiwan where he was diagnosed as the island's first swine-flu case and a 19-year-old student who became the third case in Hong Kong.
The same flight, arriving on May 22nd, carried a 20-year-old student sick with swine flu. On Sunday, a girl who had traveled to the United States became Hong Kong's seventh case.
Authorities here are worried about the way the virus is spreading. Several new cases of swine flu in Asia are people who arrived from the United States - where more than 65-hundred people have fallen ill.
A woman in the Philippines who had traveled to Chicago and 19-year-old student who arrived in Shanghai from New York were among the latest cases in Asia Monday.
Hong Kong's health secretary York Chow wrote to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, requesting exit screening measures at U.S. airports for travelers with flu-like symptoms who may spread the virus to other countries.
Dr. Gabriel Matthew Leung, undersecretary for health, says Hong Kong representative offices in the United States have contacted Hong Kong student organizations and appealed for students to defer travel during the summer break if they are sick.
"I would reiterate and re-emphasize my appeal to all those who are thinking of and planning to travel back from their studies especially from North America to make sure that they do not show any symptoms of influenza and that they do not have a fever before they board the flight. And of course, they should go to the doctor immediately if they do, and seek care locally where they are currently, in North America and make sure that they are fully recovered before they take the flight," Leung said.
In mainland China, students returning from overseas were told to avoid meeting relatives and friends days after arrival.
Dr. Thomas Tsang, head of Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection, says temperature scanning at the airport, where some 13-thousand passengers pass through daily, is still the city's first line of defense.
"I think we cannot exclude from any country, or any place that is affected. That is why our port measures, we are targeting at every affected area," he said.
Since the first cases of the flu emerged in Asia, health authorities have tracked down and quarantined scores of people who flew on the same flight or stayed in the same hotel as those who had contracted the virus.
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