Asia tries to block swine flu after four confirmed cases (Lead)

May 2nd, 2009 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Seoul, May 2 (DPA) South Korea Saturday reported East Asia’s second human case of swine flu as other countries in the region sought to minimise the risks of infections by cancelling flights and imposing visa requirements on Mexico, the worst-hit country in the outbreak.
The 51-year-old nun in South Korea confirmed to have the H1N1 strain of the flu has been isolated in hospital since Tuesday after displaying flu symptoms following her return a week ago from Mexico, the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The announcement came after Hong Kong Friday night confirmed its first swine flu case, a 25-year-old Mexican who flew Thursday to the city. He was taken to a hospital isolation ward, and the hotel where he was staying was quarantined.

In response, the governments in China and Taiwan were trying to trace passengers who flew with the Mexican patient as Beijing also suspended direct flights from Mexico. Singapore imposed visa requirements for Mexican citizens and tensions rose among the 240 guests and more than 100 staff quarantined for a week at the Hong Kong hotel.

Indian national Kevin Ireland, 45, said from his room at the Metropark Hotel that the guests began joking Friday night and trying to make light of news that they would be confined to the facility for 24 hours, but he said the atmosphere rapidly deteriorated when they learned from television reports that the quarantine was actually for seven days.

“This morning, there was a Korean gentleman, and he was way off the handle,” the father of two from New Delhi said Saturday. “He was screaming and shouting and throwing a tantrum. There is a young couple from Britain. She has been crying incessantly.

“Then there is a South African couple with a 10-month-old baby and their grandmother. The wife was taken away for tests and they are really quite agitated.”

He said conditions were exacerbated by “brusque” police, a lack of fresh clothing and linen among the guests, and a dearth of information from authorities.

“Dissemination of any kind of information is lacking,” he said. “You ask people questions, and you get no response.”

Meanwhile, South-East Asian health ministers prepared for a meeting next week that is to focus on the regional stockpiling of anti-influenza medicines to combat swine flu, officials said Saturday.

Besides the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), host Thailand has also invited ministers from China, Japan and South Korea to the first such regional meeting on tackling the outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

“We’re in discussion with the three countries and still awaiting the response on their level of participation,” Thai Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thongpaksi said.

The cases reported in South Korea and Hong Kong became Asia’s third and fourth after Israel reported it had two cases. All four patients were travellers from Mexico, which late Friday reported it has had 16 deaths from swine flu and 397 infections.

In response, China informed Mexico that it suspended flights by Aeromexico to Shanghai. The government was considering arranging a charter flight to collect Chinese passengers in Mexico who were booked on the first cancelled flight to Shanghai Sunday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

The Mexican patient hospitalised in Hong Kong had flown from Mexico to Shanghai before taking the flight to Hong Kong.

Taiwan also issued a travel alert Saturday for Hong Kong and South Korea as Singapore imposed a visa requirement on Mexicans beginning Saturday.

Previously, citizens of Mexico did not need a visa to enter Singapore, which, like Taiwan, has yet to report an infection with the H1N1 virus.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan said H1N1 is bound to enter the country but the public need not panic because the government is fully prepared to fight the virus.

South Korea’s confirmed infection caused fear to grow that the H1N1 virus could quickly be spread from human to human in South Korea.

A 44-year-old woman who lives with the sick nun is being examined on suspicions that she too could have been infected.

The nun, however, has recovered from her fever and other symptoms and might be released from hospital this weekend, authorities said.

Fourteen countries have reported human infections with the new flu strain that has genetic elements from three species - pigs, birds and humans. The only country besides Mexico to report deaths is the US with one fatality from 141 infections.

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