Quarantine shuts hotel for 7 days as outbreak feared

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am

The Metropark hotel in Wan Chai was closed for a seven-day quarantine yesterday, causing confusion among guests who complained of receiving little information about what the process involved.

Guests returning to the hotel were told by police that if they entered, they would not be allowed to leave, meaning many chose to stay away. The lockdown began at around 4pm, although guests were only told about it at the door as they tried to leave. By evening, about a dozen people from the hotel had been sent to a hospital for check-ups.

One woman said: 'I have been around here for five days; how do I know if I have come into contact with the virus?' she said. 'They are telling me nothing. How are they going to look after me?' She left the hotel rather than re-enter and be locked in.

However, late last night Director of Health Lam Ping-yan urged all guests to return to the hotel in order to receive Tamiflu tablets and subject themselves to quarantine, even though police officers at the scene originally allowed guests to leave.

When medical and police officers arrived at the hotel to start the quarantine, they promptly cordoned off the building and stopped guests from leaving. Minibuses arrived, at intervals, full of medical and cleaning staff wearing biochemical suits and carrying box loads of medical and cleaning equipment labelled 'quarantine'.

Outside the hotel, a queue of guests began to form at about 7.30pm. Christina Theosa, who was in Hong Kong for a business trip, said she had decided to wait outside because she had been told the process would take only two to three hours.

One large family from Singapore, just back from Disneyland, also waited outside rather than enter with their baby girl: 'This is very frustrating: our passports are in the safe, it would be hard to get another room and our clothes are inside. We don't know what to do,' said the father.

Another guest, speaking by phone from inside, said he had been allowed back into to hotel after going outside for something to eat. However, he was shocked to hear that he would not be allowed out for seven days. 'In effect, we had no choice, all our things, our passports, are inside.

'The staff of the hotel have been very, very good, but it appears the police and the department of health are not sharing information,' he said. A coffee shop had been converted into a command centre, but room service was still available, he said.

Lo Wing-lok, an infectious-diseases expert, disapproved of the decision to quarantine the hotel. 'It is stupid to lock up the hotel, as most people in the hotel did not contact [the infected man] at all. I believe this is going to be an international joke as overseas, healthy tourists are going to be locked up in Hong Kong for seven days. I think tourists are going to cancel hotel bookings. I am pretty sure that 99 out of 100 infected people are not going to die ... taking care of personal hygiene is the most effective way [to combat this].

A hotel industry source said representatives of hotels would meet today to discuss what measures they should introduce to guard against the flu. 'All measures implemented back in 2003 [for Sars] will be reviewed and we will discuss what measures should be adopted,' the source said. 'Some hotels are considering measuring customers' body temperature and checking their travel records before admission.' The Sars outbreak originated in another hotel owned by the Metropark's owner, China Travel International Investment.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board has set up a 24-hour visitor hotline at 852 9538 5912