Hong Kong Stocks Retreat as Fever Case Sparks MERS Speculation

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Hong Kong stocks fell, with the Hang Seng Index posting the lowest close in two months, after local officials said they were testing a woman for fever.

A 22-year-old woman who traveled last month to South Korea, where Middle East respiratory syndrome has killed nine people, is in an isolated ward of a Hong Kong hospital after developing a fever on Tuesday, the city’s health department said in an e-mailed statement.

The city’s benchmark gauge slid as much as 1.5 percent before paring declines to 1.1 percent at the close. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. slipped 1.6 percent, while retailer Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd. fell 3.1 percent.

“Reports about MERS were a catalyst to bring the market down,” said Mari Oshidari, a Hong Kong-based strategist at Okasan Securities Group Inc. “The market has been unstable recently, so in this kind of environment, investors are taking any excuse to sell.”

Hong Kong issued a red alert on outbound travel to South Korea this week, warning its citizens to avoid unnecessary visits to the country. China’s only current MERS patient arrived on a flight from Korea, prompting criticism from the country’s official Xinhua News Agency, and there hasn’t been a confirmed case of the virus in Hong Kong.

Concern about infectious respiratory diseases is ingrained in the city’s psyche after a widespread SARS outbreak in 2003. SARS infected 1,755 people in Hong Kong, killing 300, and caused economic losses totaling HK$3.8 billion ($490 million) in two months alone as tourist arrivals dwindled. Despite officially being called Middle East respiratory syndrome, local press often refer to the disease as “new SARS” in bold headlines.

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