Hong Kong said on Tuesday a first round of SARS tests on a 34-year-old woman had proved negative but more tests were needed to confirm the city was clear of the deadly flu-like virus.
Health officials tried to reassure nervous residents the city was on full alert and well prepared in case of another outbreak, after the one this year that killed more than 800 people worldwide, 299 of them in Hong Kong.
Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said tests on tissue samples from the woman had all proven negative for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus.
“All tests were confirmed to be negative, meaning that she was not a SARS patient. In fact, we have never classified this as a suspected case,” Lam told reporters.
Thomas Tsang, a doctor with Hong Kong’s Health Department, said comprehensive tests would have to be made on the woman over the next few days to rule out SARS completely.
Many residents were on edge.
“Of course I’m scared,” said one man who put on a surgical mask to visit Princess Margaret hospital, where the woman is being kept in isolation.
Asia went on high alert last week after a medical researcher in Singapore tested positive for SARS in the world’s first reported infection in three months.
But fear eased after authorities said the case appeared to be isolated and assured the public it posed no significant risk to others.
The WHO declared the global outbreak over in July but medical experts have sounded repeated warnings that SARS could re-emerge, possibly this winter.
The woman’s daughter, who is living with her, and her parents were all in good health and she had not travelled recently.
The woman sought treatment for fever and shortness of breath on September 8 and was admitted to hospital two days later.
STILL HAUNTED BY SARS
The virus first surfaced in China late last year before spreading to Hong Kong in February and then around the world.
It infected nearly 8,500 people, most of them in China and Hong Kong. The epidemic cost companies billions of dollars in lost business, particularly in the tourism industry, and stunted economic growth in many parts of Asia.
Hong Kong stocks were rattled by the scare early on Tuesday
but recovered the losses later when the government announced that a quick test late on Monday had proven negative.
“If it is an isolated case it’s OK, but if there are any signs that the virus will spread across the territory that will be very bad news for Hong Kong,” said Andrew To, sales director at Tai Fook Securities.
Hong Kong has had several SARS scares since the epidemic was contained.
In late July, 18 people were taken to hospital for tests but were found to have influenza.
Some doctors say the territory, a major international financial centre and gateway to China, is ill-prepared for another large-scale outbreak.
Isolation facilities with about 1,300 beds will not be ready until October or November and contingency plans saying what public hospitals must do in the event of a SARS epidemic are still in the making.