The deadliest Ebola epidemic in history continued its spread yesterday, as a brief scare in Hong Kong highlighted the risk of an outbreak in the city.
A Nigerian man, 32, who arrived from the Ebola-stricken African country on Thursday, was rushed to hospital yesterday with vomiting and diarrhoea, early symptoms of the virus. However, tests proved negative.
While health experts believe Hong Kong is unlikely to see an Ebola outbreak, they have stressed the need for vigilance, given the city’s role as a transport hub and proximity to Guangzhou, home to Asia’s biggest African community.
The man at the centre of yesterday’s scare was staying at a guest house in Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui, a maze of restaurants, shops and hostels.
He was first taken by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Ho Man Tin, before being put into isolation at the Infectious Disease Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung for tests.
He was the second person to test negative in the city after a local woman who fell ill on her return from Kenya last week.
A Health Department spokesman said it had “adopted preventive strategies … in line with those recommended by the World Health Organisation”.
Ebola has claimed almost 1,000 lives this year, mostly in West Africa’s Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with two deaths in Nigeria. The Hong Kong government last week announced that it would quarantine people from affected areas who displayed Ebola symptoms.
Watch: What is the Ebola virus?
The department is advising visitors from the four countries to seek immediate treatment if they fall ill. But the government has admitted it would be difficult to keep tabs on all visitors from the affected countries; 10,000 are said to arrive each year.
“In view of the latest development, we advise travellers to avoid unnecessary travel to the affected areas including Lagos in Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” it added.
Romania yesterday became the latest country to report a suspected Ebola case. A man was being tested in Toronto, Canada, and tests on a Saudi man who died last week proved negative.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. There is no approved cure or vaccine.
In the event of an Ebola case, all those in close contact with the patient would be put in quarantine and banned from leaving the city under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, Centre for Health Protection chief Dr Leung Ting-hung said last week.
But Leung played down the idea of Chungking Mansions becoming ground zero for an outbreak. He said many of the Africans living and working there had long lived in the city.
There was little concern in the complex yesterday. Diner Annie Lit was not worried. “I don’t think there will be an outbreak in Hong Kong, where hygiene has improved a lot [after the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak],” she said.
China will send disease control experts to West Africa while flights carrying medical supplies left for the region yesterday, Xinhua reported last night.
The World Health Organisation, which last week declared Ebola an international emergency, said on Saturday that vaccine trials could start soon.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok, Agence France-Presse, Xinhua