Room 911 at Hong Kong's Metropole Hotel was the epicenter of the global SARS outbreak. A year last Saturday, a sick doctor from southern China checked in, bringing with him a terrifying virus that would spread panic and death through Hong Kong and the world.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the day Professor Liu Jianlun was rushed to a nearby hospital after infecting at least 16 guests and visitors.
One year on, every room in the Kowloon hotel was full except for the one he stayed in -- room 911 no longer exists.
The room, which hotel management once considered turning into a museum dedicated to the SARS outbreak, has had the brass plaque bearing the infamous number on its door removed and has replaced it with the number 913.
Every subsequent odd-numbered room on the ninth floor, where Liu infected guests and visitors from Hong Kong, Canada and Singapore who would take the virus around the world, has had its number changed too.
Guests are apparently being told nothing of the hotel's bizarre decision to renumber room 911 out of existence.
A reporter who phoned to ask what had happened to room 911 was told brusquely by a duty manager: "The number of that room has always been 913."
A request to the operator on the in-house phone to put a call through to room 911 was met with the response: "I'm sorry but that line is engaged." A "clean up room" light was on outside room 913, showing it was occupied, though no one answered the door.
The role played by Liu and room 911 in the global SARS outbreak cannot be overstated. It was the subject of an investigation by the WHO, which believes most of the 8,422 cases and 916 deaths in 29 countries can be traced back to the Metropole, excluding those in China.
Liu, a respiratory diseases expert in one of Guangzhou's biggest hospitals, was already infected with SARS when he arrived in Hong Kong on Feb. 21, 2003. The next day he was admitted to the Kwong Wah Hospital hundreds of meters from the hotel, where he died on March 4.
At first it was thought that he spread the virus by coughing and sneezing on fellow guests as they waited for a lift together in the ninth floor corridor. Later, investigations found he may have been sick on the carpet outside room 911, which may have spread the virus.
Overseas guests -- including a 78-year-old woman from Toronto, an American-Chinese businessman bound for Hanoi and three Singaporeans -- carried the virus overseas while a 26-year-old airport technician visiting a friend on the ninth floor was later admitted to the Prince Of Wales Hospital, setting off an outbreak there.
Business continued as usual at the Metropole until its fatal link with the outbreak was discovered on March 19, setting off panic among guests and an exodus from the 487-room hotel.
It seemed in the months afterwards that business would never recover and resident manager Kaivin Ng said on June 22 last year, when occupancy rates recovered to 20 percent: "We might turn the whole floor, or just room 911 where Professor Liu stayed, into a museum."
Soon after, however, the ninth floor was reopened as the spectre of SARS passed and tourists -- particularly the growing number of Chinese tourists allowed in on package tours -- flooded back into Hong Kong with a vengeance.
On Saturday, the hotel's restaurant and lobby was bustling with guests mostly from China who seemed unconcerned about the grim history of the hotel.
Only one man walking into the lobby restaurant was wearing a face mask, the ubiquitous symbol of last year's Hong Kong SARS outbreak.
A receptionist said: "The hotel is fully booked."
A concierge remarked: "We're bursting at the seams. If you want to book a room, you should call at least a week in advance."
One guest, retired Geraldine Pearse from Swansea in Wales, who was staying at the Metropole for four nights as part of a package tour, said: "I thought this was the SARS hotel at the time I booked it but I didn't want to ask when I got here."
"Anyway I'm a great believer that when your time's up, your time's up," Pearse said.
Even if I'd known for sure it wouldn't have stopped me staying here. It must have been very scary here at the time but Hong Kong has been clear of SARS for a long time now," Pearse said.
I'd be more worried about going to Bangkok because of bird flu right now," Pearse said.
A long line of people on Sunday snaked across the sand of Miami Beach, Florida, as dozens of travelers from Latin America waited their turn at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination booth. Sweating under the afternoon sun, visitors checked into an online system — no proof of residence required — and soon after received a free, single-dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a vaccination card. People had come from all over Latin America — Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela — where the vaccine rollout has been slow and hampered by supply shortages. “In my country, [COVID-19] is getting out of hand and there’s
US actress Scarlett Johansson on Saturday urged the film industry to “step back” from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) as criticism of the opaque film industry group, which controls the Golden Globe awards, continues to mount for sexism and racism. The Avengers star said in a statement that the “HFPA is an organization that was legitimized by the likes of Harvey Weinstein to amass momentum for Academy recognition.” Johansson said that “as an actor promoting a film,” participating in the organization’s news conferences and award shows “has often meant facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on
A man was left stranded on a glass-bottomed suspension bridge in northeastern China after sudden gale-force winds shattered the transparent panels around him. The man was on the 100m-high bridge at Piyan Mountain in Longjing city, when it was hit by sudden strong weather, the local tourism department said. TRAPPED Gusts of up to 150kph blew out several glass panels, trapping the tourist until he could be rescued by firefighters, police, and forestry and tourism personnel more than half an hour later. Photographs shared on social media showed the man clinging to the side of the bridge, surrounded by gaping holes where the
Remnants of China’s largest rocket launched last week were expected to plunge back through the atmosphere late yesterday or early today, a US federally funded space-focused research and development center said. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that most debris from the rocket would be burned up on re-entry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, after the US military said that what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by US Space Command. In a Twitter post sent on Friday evening in the US, the Aerospace Corporation said that the latest prediction for the re-entry of