One of four patients admitted to hospital suspected of carrying Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) has tested negative for the virus, hospital officials announced on Thursday.
It was unclear whether the three remaining patients had also tested negative, with the hospital authority only saying that no confirmed case had been found so far. The authority confirmed the 22-year-old woman who sought treatment at a clinic operated by the Quality HealthCare group in the Tsing Yi MTR station had tested negative.
The suspected cases, picked up at the city’s health centres, marked the first time the wider community may have been exposed to the deadly virus.
All four fell ill after visiting South Korea, where an outbreak has killed nine people and infected 108.
Until now, all of the suspected Mers cases in Hong Kong were intercepted during temperature checks at the airport.
From noon on Tuesday to noon on Wednesday, more than 30 suspected cases were reported, but about half initially tested negative for Mers.
The cases within the community – which followed a tightening in the reporting regime – came as Chinese health authorities warned that mainland China was facing a heightened risk of the virus.
In the first Hong Kong case on Wednesday, the 22-year-old woman who has since tested negative was rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital after seeking treatment at a clinic operated by the Quality HealthCare group in the Tsing Yi MTR station. The woman showed signs of fever and a running nose after visiting Seoul between May 23 and 27. She did not show any symptoms until she had been back in the city for almost two weeks.
Three other suspected cases were reported at other Quality HealthCare medical centres on the same day. One was a young woman who visited Seoul between May 26 and 30, and sought treatment for fever and diarrhoea at the centre in Prince’s Building in Central.
Another young woman, who was in South Korea last Friday and Saturday, had a fever and a running nose after the trip. She went to the group’s clinic in Pacific Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui, and was sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The fourth suspected case, a middle-aged woman, visited the centre’s clinic in Tung Chung with a fever after returning from South Korea on Monday.
Watch: New Mers deaths in South Korea brings the total to nine
Despite concerns about community exposure to the virus, infectious disease experts said there was no increased risk facing the city as people were more aware of precautionary measures.
However, the initial scare spooked the stock market. The benchmark Hang Seng Index had dropped 228 points, or 0.85 per cent, by 3.05pm, with heavy selling starting at about 2.30pm when the news of the first suspected case broke.
On mainland China, Mao Qunan, a spokesman of the National Health and Family Planning Commission in Beijing, said the country’s risk of having imported Mers cases had increased.
“Because our country has relatively frequent contact with people from South Korea and the Middle East, and especially now that South Korea has an outbreak, our experts have assessed that the risk of importing cases has increased significantly,” he said.
The commission said on its official microblog that a Chinese citizen working at a South Korean hospital was confirmed to be infected with Mers.
But Mao sidestepped the issue of whether Beijing would follow decisions by Taipei, Hong Kong and Macau to issue travel warnings against South Korea.
“Whether we are going to issue any ban or warning over travelling, it’s something we need to discuss with members of our tourism department,” he said.
A 44-year-old man, who is the son of a confirmed Mers patient in South Korea, is being treated in a hospital in Huizhou in southern Guangdong province. The man travelled to Huizhou late last month via Hong Kong.
The Southern Metropolis News reported that all 75 people who had come into close contact with the 44-year-old after he entered mainland China were about to finish their 14 days of quarantine after testing negative for the virus.
Additional reporting by Associated Press