May 8, 2009 / 7:37 AM / in 9 years

Hong Kong frees 300 after week-long hotel quarantine

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities freed nearly 300 guests and staff of a hotel Friday evening after quarantining them for a week in an attempt to contain a new influenza virus.

<p>Guests who were confined inside the Metropark Hotel celebrate at the entrance as they are released in Hong Kong May 8, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>

Guests clapped and screamed as they left the Metropark hotel after police lifted the lockdown at 8:30 p.m EDT.

Punching his fist into the air, Kevin Ireland, a businessman from India exclaimed: “I‘m out, I didn’t like it, not at all but I am very relieved now.”

But Ireland added he was very satisfied with the way the government treated him. A group of about 50 Hong Kong residents near him waved flags and shouted “Welcome Home!” to the guests streaming onto waiting tour buses.

Some called it an unforgettable experience but others like Spaniard Francisco Javier Boada said: “It was very boring.”

Many guests in the hotel were initially outraged to be quarantined for a week in the hotel where a Mexican man confirmed as the city’s first and only H1N1 flu victim had stayed, but some later let their hair down.

Thursday night, many guests ripped off face masks to dance and party the night away with beer and wine in the downstairs lobby, toasting journalists camped outside.

Speaking to reporters just before the quarantine was lifted, Health Minister York Chow said: “Their health is normal and they have all received health certificates ... I want to thank them on behalf of all Hong Kong people for helping us ensure that Hong Kong is safe.”

Although some people have ridiculed Hong Kong’s move as extreme, many public health experts backed the quarantine, saying drastic measures were needed to stop the spread of the disease.

<p>A hotel guest who is confined to his hotel room looks out of a window in Hong Kong, May 6, 2009. Cocooned in tiny rooms for a week, 300 tourists and staff quarantined at a Hong Kong hotel in the battle against swine flu have been painfully adjusting to life in confinement, while aching for release later this week. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>

“Next time a person comes with the virus, we will still aim for containment,” Chow said.

Hong Kong’s leader, Donald Tsang, said that while the H1N1 virus had been successfully contained on this occasion, he warned against complacency in future. “The battle is far from over,” Tsang told reporters after visiting the hotel.

While authorities were praised by experts for their tough quarantine measures to prevent a possible community spread of the H1N1 virus, hotel guests were initially confused and outraged given the perceived risk of cross-infection.

<p>A hotel guest who is confined to his room waves to journalists as he talks on a mobile phone in Hong Kong May 6, 2009. Cocooned in tiny rooms for a week, 300 tourists and staff quarantined at a Hong Kong hotel in the battle against influenza A (H1N1), formerly referred to as swine flu, have been painfully adjusting to life in confinement, while aching for release later this week. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>

Since then, no new cases have arisen, easing anxieties.

The South China Morning Post newspaper reported that at least two new couples had formed during the hotel quarantine, along with other tales of intrigue on the edge of Hong Kong’s Wanchai district, made famous by the 1960s movie “The World of Suzie Wong,” starring William Holden.

At least one of the women trapped in the hotel was believed to be a prostitute -- not unheard of in the pleasure district known for its bargirls from Thailand and the Philippines and popular with visiting U.S. sailors.

“She remained stuck in one of the hotel’s 173 rooms with the guest who brought her in, because the management refused her a separate room,” the Post said, citing unidentified hotel guests.

The Hong Kong government has also been on a public relations blitz, offering to foot all extra costs, plying guests with gifts like T-shirts and tickets to attractions such as the local Disney theme park and offering two nights’ free accommodation.

Thursday, Hong Kong authorities released its first batch of 35 people, most of whom had come into contact with the infected Mexican man on his flight to Hong Kong from Shanghai.

Editing by Paul Tait

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