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Swine Flu Finally Hits Hong Kong

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on May 4, 2009

The swine flu outbreak has thrown many of my Hong Kong neighbors off their stride. Hong Kong, after all, is used to being at center stage of global health scares. Avian flu? We had it first, conducting a mass cull of birds back in 1997. SARS? It may have started in China but only when the disease hit Hong Kong in March of 2003 did the disease start terrifying people around the world. Other flu outbreaks? Just last year, the government shut down schools for two weeks amid worries of a new flu strain breaking out. And until now, the world’s most recent flu pandemic was the Hong Kong flu of 1968.

With a new pandemic threatening, though, Hong Kong is strangely on the sidelines, a bit player in a show in which it used to be a star. The new flu outbreak seems to have started in Mexico and spread from there to the U.S. and other countries. The news on Friday of Hong Kong’s first confirmed case has sent some locals scurrying back to their SARS-era stash of surgical masks, but their hearts don’t seem to be in it. I went with my family to the movies yesterday at the swankiest shopping mall in town and while just about every employee there wore a mask (probably because they had no choice), almost none of the shoppers could be bothered. And while the media last week reported the government planned to shut down schools as soon as there was a confirmed case of swine flu in Hong Kong, once we finally did get our first case – and it turned out to be not a local person but a Mexican tourist on his way through town from Shanghai – the government quarantined the tourist’s hotel but decided schools could stay open after all.

Local officials caught a break with the timing of the first case, coming just as the Mexican government scaled back its figures on the number of swine-flu deaths. Viruses can mutate, of course, and things could still get much worse, but for now there are hopeful signs this outbreak isn’t going to be the Big One that public-health experts have long feared. The Hong Kong stock market seems to have taken a been-there-done-that attitude to the whole thing, with shares gaining over 5% in trading today.

Reader Comments


May 4, 2009 9:59 AM

I don't think Hong Kong is a "bit" player. The swift action taken by the government last week is a show case example of the kind of reaction that is necessary when an biological threat emerges.

Better safe than sorry is what Asia learned from the SARs experience.


May 4, 2009 5:02 PM

Let's laugh before we die. Check out a funny take on Swine Flu @

Donald Watson

May 4, 2009 5:24 PM

Concentration camps for living creatures is never a good thing. This case is another proof.

For our children sake, it is time to leave out the meat and other animal products. Check out websites like and see how many options (healthier ones) we humans have.

Right now, we are slaughtering our only plant. Let's wake up before it will be too late.

"The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving
force behind virtually every major category of
environmental damage now threatening the human future.
Deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity,
air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss,
social injustice, the destabilization of communities,
and the spread of disease."
Editors, World Watch, July/August 2004


May 4, 2009 9:20 PM

it is very scared to travel in hongkong nowadays cz of swine flu..


May 5, 2009 12:29 AM

Quarantine them now we dont wont this to get more outta hand than it is, if it gets to evry country then what...

vivek ranjan

June 13, 2009 12:26 AM

Is it a right time to visit Hong Kong or shall I postpond my trip

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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