Tests in Hong Kong on the first suspected case of the H7N9 bird flu virus proved negative on Friday night.
The Hospital Authority said that a seven-year-old girl who travelled to Shanghai at the end of last month had developed a fever and flu symptoms.
She was in quarantine in Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s paediatric department. But officials revealed the tests for the H7N9 strain were negative shortly 8before midnight.
The news emerged as it was announced the virus had claimed its sixth victim, a 64-year-old farmer from Huzhou, Zhejiang province. He was confirmed to have the virus on Thursday and died that night.
Health officials in Jiangsu said on Friday that two new cases had been confirmed in the provincial capital Nanjing.
One was a 61-year-old woman, said to be in a critical condition, and the other a 79-year-old man in a serious condition. The cases take the total number of people confirmed to have been infected in the Yangtze River Delta region to 16.
In Shanghai, markets trading in live poultry will be closed 8temporarily and sales of live birds suspended elsewhere, said 8municipal government spokesman Xu Wei .
More than 20,000 birds were culled on Friday at the Huhuai Farm Products Market in the city where the H7N9 virus was detected in a pigeon sample on Thursday. Shao Linchu, deputy director of Shanghai’s Agricultural Commission, said: “The government will pay compensation to the vendors of at least 50 per cent of the market price of the poultry slaughtered.”
Li Wenqi, a poultry farmer in the city’s Xuhui district, said his business had dropped from 100 chickens a day to zero since the H7N9 outbreak, but he was very willing to comply with the government.
“Our business is suffering but people are dying,” he said. “We can only be co-operative. This is not the time to bargain with the government.” In Hong Kong, additional staff will carry out temperature checks at border crossing points, starting today.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said: “I think we ought to be prepared, mainly because of the fact that H7N9 up to this moment has created a relatively high mortality rate in infected patients. Secondly, the outbreak has been extending or worsening in the last two to three days in eastern China.”
Dr Cai Haodong, an infectious disease expert at Beijing’s Ditan Hospital, said the high mortality rate of six out of 16 cases could not be compared with the 10 per cent mortality rate of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic 10 years ago because the diseases were caused by different viruses.
But he said it was “scary” in its own way. “Sars was contagious, so people were worried about the transmission, whereas the H7N9 flu has not been transmitted from human to human so far – but once you contract it, it is dangerous,” Cai said.
The WHO said yesterday there was no sign of a sustained spread of the H7N9 virus.
The Hang Seng Index ended down 2.7 per cent at 21,726.9 as outbreak fears sparked a sell-off.