A four-year-old boy visiting Hong Kong from Saudi Arabia is sick in Queen Mary Hospital with a Sars-like virus suspected to be the same one that emerged in the Middle East last month.
If confirmed, it would be the world's third case of the novel coronavirus, which killed one man and left the other critically ill.
The city's health authorities received a report from Ruttonjee Hospital yesterday that it was handling a suspected case of severe respiratory disease associated with the novel coronavirus, a spokesman for the Centre for Health Protection said.
The youngster was admitted to the emergency unit yesterday suffering a fever, cough and vomiting, the spokesman said. He was later transferred to Queen Mary Hospital and is being kept in isolation. His condition last night was described as stable.
The centre's investigation showed the boy had arrived from Jeddah with his father on Wednesday. His father had a fever on Friday but later recovered. The centre said it was "closely liaising" with the Hospital Authority to monitor the situation.
City officials had been taking precautions to pick up any cases of the disease. The centre said a respiratory specimen had been taken for testing and results were expected in 48 hours.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses and cause the common cold as well as severe acute respiratory syndrome
The new coronavirus - which Dutch scientists named as human betacoronavirus 2c - has affected two people so far - a 60-year-old man in Saudi Arabia who died, and a 49-year-old Qatari man who had visited Saudi Arabia. Denmark isolated five people with suspected infections, but it was later confirmed they were suffering from influenza B infection.
Medical centres around the world have been on alert since the Saudi Arabian man died several months ago.
The World Health Organisation said the new virus was similar to a bat coronavirus and it stressed the virus was not the one that causes Sars, which killed about 800 people, including 299 in Hong Kong, in 2003.
University of Hong Kong professor Yuen Kwok-yung said last month that the genetic sequence of the new virus was 90 per cent similar to two bat strains found locally, the closest match so far. But neither normally jump from animal to human.
Legislative amendments in the city listing the novel coronavirus as a notifiable infectious disease were gazetted from September 28.
The centre spokesman advised travellers who fall sick within 10 days after visiting from affected countries to put on a mask and seek medical advice immediately.