Hong Kong is on high alert as 18 people were placed in quarantine after coming into contact with the Mers virus.
Officials are urging the public not to panic, saying that “The virus does not transmit human-to-human sustainedly. Therefore, there would not be a major outbreak now”.
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Authorities concluded that at least 29 of the 158 passengers on the flight – 14 Koreans and 15 Chinese – were in close contact with the patient, sitting within two rows in front of or behind him.
Of those, 18 were to be put under quarantine at the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung for 14 days. The other 11 were believed to have left the city.
“They have gone to the mainland, South Korea and other countries,” Leung said.
The information was passed on to authorities on the mainland and in South Korea, as well as the World Health Organisation for further contact tracing. Hong Kong officials said last night that they had managed to contact a total of 40 people.
Health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said: “I am very concerned about the outbreak of Mers. The most important thing for us now is to concentrate our efforts to search out the passengers on the same flight who have been identified as close contacts.”
Two of those sent to hospital yesterday were among 52 passengers who were not in close contact with the patient on the flight. A third was a ticketing employee involved when the Korean caught a bus with the licence plate number PJ2595 from Chek Lap Kok airport to Sha Tau Kok. He then took a bus, with licence plate HN5211, to Huizhou.
Health authorities were trying to contact more than 20 people who shared the buses with the patient. Some of the passengers switched to a car, with licence plate NF4501, travelling to Danshui, Guangdong.
Health authorities are appealing to the people they are looking for to call the Centre for Health Protection’s hotline at +852 2125 1111. Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the Immigration Department would help health officials track down the people.
The Korean patient, who was put under isolation in a Huizhou hospital, had a temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius and symptoms of pneumonia. Thirty-eight people who had close contact with him on the mainland were also isolated, although they did not show unusual symptoms.
South Korea’s health ministry apologised for letting the patient leave the country and put others at risk while he was under quarantine orders. His father and sister were also confirmed to be infected with Mers.
“We should have checked more actively and broadly on family related issues. We are deeply sorry about that,” said Yang Byung-kook, director of the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Three more Mers cases were confirmed in South Korea yesterday, bringing the total to 10.
Mers, a respiratory illness which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has a fatality rate of about 40 per cent. There is no vaccine or treatment.