Hong Kong authorities activated a new “serious response” level — the second rung of a three-tier scale — amid fears that a mysterious infectious disease may have spread from China.

Health officials put thermal imaging equipment in place at Hong Kong International Airport to check inbound passengers’ temperatures in response to an outbreak of a viral pneumonia in the mainland city of Wuhan.

Read more: World unprepared for pandemic, panel warns

They also assigned staff to carry out similar tests at railway stations linked to the mainland. City leader Carrie Lam visited the West Kowloon high-speed train station Friday to review health surveillance measures.

“The government will assess the risk from time to time in view of the latest scientific evidence and situation, activate or deactivate the response level and implement corresponding measures,” said a spokesman in an official statement.

Territory officials also urged individuals to take basic hygienic precautions — such as washing hands, covering mouths and noses when sneezing, and isolating themselves in the event of respiratory symptoms.

Seven cases reported

People were also told to take special precautions when traveling outside Hong Kong, particularly when it came to contact with animals.

China Wuhan East Lake (picture-alliance/dpa/Imaginechina/Ren Yong)

An outbreak in the mainland city of Wuhan has been linked to a large food market nearby

According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, the number of suspected cases reported in the autonomous area now stands at seven. At least three were later found to have been suffering from ordinary flu.

The outbreak in Wuhan, a city to the west of Shanghai and some 900 kilometers (570 miles) north of Hong Kong, has infected at least 44 people.

Read more: Swine fever: Scientists warn quarter of world’s pigs could die

Most cases have been linked to a food market that offers wild animals that could carry viruses dangerous to humans.

The pneumonia-like infectious disease revives memories of a deadly outbreak less than two decades earlier. In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong. Following that outbreak, the World Health Organization criticized China for under-reporting the number of SARS cases, amid fears of a global pandemic.

The scare comes as Hong Kong officials struggle to keep a lid on pro-democracy protests in the territory.


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