Officials prepared for Tuesday’s world premiere of a Bollywood film about an outbreak of a deadly strain of the bird flu, but had little time to worry when the disease broke out at a sports stadium in Hong Kong a few hours later, a witness said.

“It’s very strange to me,” said Gary Sturzenegger, director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. “But you wonder what the Chinese could have done differently in a real emergency.”

Sturzenegger was speaking Tuesday morning from an airplane in Hong Kong to a half-dozen participants in a meeting planned to discuss the disease outbreak with “Team Batticaloa,” the theme of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which began Monday.

In a surreal scene Monday morning, Pakistani cameramen moved around the hall in silence and tents outside the World Health Organization’s headquarters were covered with black plastic to minimize visibility, as Han Hui, Asia health editor of state-run China Central Television, fronted an interview at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the studio hours later, she took questions from Chinese and South Korean reporters on the whereabouts of the virus, which began ravaging a South Korean team preparing for the tournament and then turned up in Hong Kong.

It was the first outbreak of avian flu since 2003, and it has marred a tournament of human-to-human contact. The World Health Organization said the virus, which has already killed at least six people, poses no immediate threat to humans.

Sturzenegger said it appeared to be “a controlled virus,” but he said it raised the specter of what could happen when the virus mutates to infect humans and spread among people.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the Sports Turf Company had started spraying both sidelines and stands and disinfecting surfaces at the stadium at the Hong Kong International Stadium before it was due to host Hong Kong and Zambia on Tuesday night. All teams, including the South Korean team, were advised not to fly home from Hong Kong until after the match, the report said.

Jack Lyster, a spokesman for the South Korean national team, said the South Korean government had told all players to be at the stadium Tuesday for the opening ceremony and the games with Zambia. The president of the national soccer association had been asked to travel to Hong Kong to coordinate the response.

The Russian team, which was due to play Turkey on Saturday, was also due to fly Tuesday from Moscow to Hong Kong, the report said. The Russian team had been scheduled to leave on Wednesday, but it was unclear when it would leave.

Nix of South Korea is still under quarantine and preparations are being made to declare the Korean team no longer at risk of infection, a spokesman at South Korea’s Olympic Committee said.

Nix was moved to the stadium from a hospital, which had been chosen to be a temporary quarantine location, a spokeswoman said.

First Published: Apr 22, 2010 23:49 IST