By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 2, 2009 1:05 AM
BEIJING, May 2 -- Chinese authorities confirmed the country's first case of swine flu on Friday evening and put into full swing a meticulously planned program to contain the outbreak.
The patient, a 25-year-old Mexican man who had flown to Hong Kong on Thursday, developed flu symptoms and went to a local hospital around 8 p.m. that night. As he was undergoing tests to confirm his infection, the government sent police and health workers to quarantine all guests and workers at his hotel. They also began hunting for everyone the patient might have been in contact with, from the airport taxi driver who took the man and his two friends to the Metropark Hotel to anyone who sat near him on his airline flights.
Health officials fear the virus could transmit swiftly in densely populated Asia. Chinese authorities have vowed not to repeat the delays and official coverups six years ago that allowed SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, to kill hundreds in Hong Kong and China and spread globally.
Even before this first case of swine flu was confirmed within its borders, China's top leaders had taken high-profile steps to demonstrate their serious intention to do everything necessary to combat an epidemic. State media reported that President Hu Jintao on Thursday morning convened a meeting of the country's top leadership body to review reaction plans, following Premier Wen Jiabao's cabinet meeting earlier in the week.
China has ordered provincial officials to designate local hospitals to handle any suspected cases of swine flu and to ensure that those facilities are well stocked with supplies. China's health minister, Chen Zhu, warned Friday that the virus could spread quickly and ordered all medical officials to be on high alert.
Photos from the scene of the infected man's hotel show police in face masks blocking the exits to the hotel. About 200 guests and 100 hotel workers will remain in quarantine for seven days. Some guests reported flu symptoms and were taken by ambulance to hospitals, according to state news media.
The unidentified man had switched planes in Shanghai on Thursday morning and had spent five hours at that airport, said York Chow, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health.
As of Saturday morning, the government had found 30 people who had traveled on the man's connecting flight from Shanghai, but they were still seeking another 11. The government intends to place all 41 under medical observation for a week, state news media reported.
The infected man is reported to be in stable condition. Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang raised alert levels but said that schools and other public offices and businesses should stay open.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Saturday that the government was suspending all flights from Mexico into the country.