Tuesday, April 23, 2013

scmp: Tensions flare in remote Sichuan village waiting for quake relief



Keith Zhai in Lushan, Sichuan keith.zhai@scmp.com

In a remote village, people fight over scarce supplies while officials promise aid is on way

As relief materials pile up at major rescue centres in quake-hit areas of Sichuan province, villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government.

"It's been four days, four days. I haven't seen any government official bother to ask us how we have been coping," said 66-year-old Chen Zhongfen, from Shengli village in Taiping township, in an outlying part of Lushan county.

Lushan county was the epicentre of Saturday's quake, which has claimed 193 lives, with 23 people missing and more than 14,000 injured.

"I haven't got anything yet, and we've heard that the aid has all gone to central areas."

Chen was among more than 2,000 villagers in Shengli struggling to cope with post-quake life as rain began to fall. They desperately need more shelters and food. But four days into the disaster, villagers like Chen in rural communities say they have been left out of disaster relief efforts.

Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping chaired a special meeting of the party's Politburo Standing Committee yesterday on relief work in the quake zone, at which he vowed to keep searching for those missing, even though the 72-hour window that represented their best chance of survival passed yesterday. The meeting promised to ensure everyone in the quake zone had "food to eat, clothes to wear, clean water to drink, temporary places to stay and medicines to use".

[Villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government. Photo: Simon Song]

Villagers from rural communities are complaining they have been forgotten by the government. Photo: Simon SongHowever, in Shengli village, more than 350 villagers had to share nine tents and 100 bottles of water. They said the few tents they had were becoming useless because they had no floors and the rain had been quite heavy over the past two days. Many villagers said they were running out of food and only had corn soup every day. "I can endure all this, but what about the pregnant women and the elderly in the village?" said He Xiaobing .

He, a 42-year-old farmer, had to move his family and all the belongings he could salvage from his house into a home-made tent crammed with about 20 people.

A fight broke out among 50 villagers in Taiping township who scrambled for a few boxes of water and instant noodles from rescue workers. Police were called in to disperse them. Villagers asked the local authorities why some people in Lushan county had received more than enough relief supplies while many rural people like them remained starving and homeless.

Wang Dong , Taiping's party chief, urged villagers to stay calm, saying "a lot of supplies will be coming soon, once the clogged roads are cleared". He said most of the resources were concentrated in Lushan, about 30 kilometres from Taiping.

But rescue worker Zhang Xueming said the roads were not the major problem. "Most of the tents are provided by companies and they all want them to be sent to major areas to attract more public attention."

Official media such as Xinhua have been giving relief efforts a positive spin, mainly focusing on heroic rescue operations in Lushan county and Longmen township, especially after Premier Li Keqiang's visit to the township on Sunday. Xinhua also reported yesterday that medical workers took care of a newborn boy in a tent serving as a temporary hospital in Taiping.

Yang Hao, a farmer in Shengli village, said: "We are the forgotten ones; nobody cares about us. I wish Premier Li had come to our town, then we wouldn't have today's problems."

View Yaan Earthquake in a larger map

Saturday, April 20, 2013

REUTERS: Supplier woes stir Apple demand fears, stock drops below $400

By Poornima Gupta and Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO | Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:22pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc's shares fell below $400 on Wednesday for the first time since December 2011 after a chip supplier's disappointing revenue forecast fanned fears about weakening demand for the iPhone and iPad as competition intensifies.

The stock dropped below $400 briefly before bouncing back to end 5.5 percent lower at $402.80, losing more than $22 billion of market value in a single day.

Cirrus Logic, which makes analog and audio chips for the iPhone and iPad, on Tuesday warned of a reduced product forecast from one customer - which it did not name. But 90 percent or more of its business comes from Apple, making it a key indicator of demand for iPhones and iPads.

The surprise warning fueled fears that demand for the iPhone - which makes up more than half of Apple's revenue - is falling faster than expected as Samsung Electronics and other rivals who use Google Inc's Android software flood the market with cheaper phones. Typically, many Apple fans also hold off on buying the gadgets if they believe a new model will be introduced in the next few months.

Apple is to report quarterly results on Tuesday. Analysts say Cirrus Logic's reduced outlook lends weight to arguments that consumers' love affair with the iPhone is waning as challengers such as Samsung vie for their attention.

"This is a tough environment. Apple is in transition between products," said Michael Yoshikami, a portfolio manager at Destination Wealth Management, which owns about 50,000 Apple shares. Cirrus's warning "makes it more likely Apple's not going to surprise on upside."

Since its September 2012 peak, Apple has lost 40 percent of its market value or more than $280 billion - slightly more than Google's entire capitalization - battered by worries about the effect on Apple's industry-leading margins if it's forced to do faster updates of its products to keep up.

Some believe Apple will not be able to sustain its high gross margins as competition in the tablet and smartphone markets leads to lower prices. Shorter product cycles limit Apple's ability to bring down component costs, Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a note to clients.

Cirrus's weak forecast follows a 19 percent decline in first-quarter sales at Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, Apple's main contract manufacturer.

"It's a reminder of weakening demand and the challenges around product transitions," Shannon Cross, of Cross Research, said. "There's not a lot of conviction about what the second half is going to look like."

Verizon Communications Inc, which with Vodafone controls the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier Verizon Wireless, reports results on Thursday and may offer more clues to iPhone and iPad demand in the quarter.


Investors are growing increasingly nervous about Apple's growth prospects.

Shares of other chip makers and Apple suppliers, including Qualcomm, Avago Technologies, Broadcom and Skyworks, fell between 2 and 6 percent on a day that saw broad weakness in financial markets.

Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope said in a note on Wednesday that Apple's momentum could weaken further before it launches new products later this year.

Apple, which relies heavily on new products to drive its revenue growth, has not had a launch since last October when it unveiled its 7.9-inch iPad mini and an updated full-size iPad.

The company typically launches a new iPad in the spring, but it is unlikely to do so because of the October update. Looking forward, investors now expect an upcoming new iPhone to power earnings in the second half. The two versions of the iPad are also likely to get an update in the fall.

In the past week, analysts had reduced their estimates for Apple's March quarter revenue on average to $42.53 billion from $42.68 billion. Following Cirrus' warning on Tuesday, some think Apple's results could miss those already reduced expectations.

Apple is expected to report a 9 percent increase in quarterly revenue, with net profit expected to decline 17 percent to $9.59 billion, or $10.08 a share, for its fiscal second quarter, according to average analysts' estimates.

Sacconaghi, who lowered his revenue estimate to $41.1 billion from $42.4 billion, said he expects mixed results with Apple's revenue coming in below consensus and earnings per share largely as expected.

Apple's implied volatility, which measures perceived risk of future stock movement, shot up on Wednesday. The implied volatility for the next 30 days for Apple stood at 43.73 percent, a 16.7 percent increase.

Share price volatility should increase into earnings and surpass an annual high in the next few days, said Ophir Gottlieb, managing director of options analytics firm Livevol.

(Additional reporting By Edwin Chan; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Andrew Hay, Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

scmp: 40pc of bird flu victims haven't touched poultry





Stephen Chen binglin.chen@scmp.com

A top mainland scientist said 40 per cent of the people who have tested positive for the new, deadly strain of bird flu had no recent contact with poultry, and so it is still unclear how they contracted the virus.

The remark by Dr Zeng Guang , chief of epidemiology at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, came as Shanghai and Zhejiang authorities announced five new cases of H7N9, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 82, with 17 of them fatal.

"How were they infected? It is still a mystery," he was quoted by The Beijing News yesterday as saying. All the cases so far have been in China.

The Ministry of Health cited Feng Zijian, director of the CDC's office of emergency response, as saying the source of the illness was hard to pinpoint. He noted that during the last major bird flu outbreak, which involved H5N1, half of the victims could not remember whether they had come in contact with poultry or other birds. Still, he said he believed that all infected during this outbreak must have come in contact with an environment contaminated by fowl, or in contact with birds directly.

Of the five new cases, just one was in Shanghai - an 89-year-old man from Jiangsu province. Authorities did not give his condition. The first person infected in Beijing, a seven-year-old girl, left hospital yesterday.

A four-year-old boy in the capital infected with the strain but not displaying symptoms remained in quarantine.

Health authorities hope the boy will help doctors understand the virus. He was identified as a carrier via a random blood test of people in or near the poultry industry.

Hunan this week became the sixth major region to officially announce a case of H7N9 - a two-year-old child whose sex was not given. The child and his parents travelled from Shanghai to Changsha, Hunan, on March 17, when he began running a fever, according to Hunan health authorities. He was admitted to hospital in Changsha and returned to Shanghai two days later. He was again admitted to hospital, where he recovered. He was discharged on March 22.

Meanwhile, a research team in Hubei province has a new theory regarding the evolutionary path of the bird flu strain.

Professor Xue Yu, a biologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan , said researchers believed the deadly virus evolved after Chinese birds came in contact with birds from East Asian countries such as South Korea.

Xue's analysis was in line with other studies on the mainland, including by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that suggested the decisive element of the deadly virus came from East Asian countries.

But it differs from a theory put forward by Japanese researchers, which blames birds migrating from Europe.

Monday, April 15, 2013

camp: Hong Kong expert warns new bird flu virus could become a pandemic


Hong Kong expert says H7N9 could pose a bigger threat than H5N1 and may adapt to become transmittable between humans

Emily Tsang and Zhuang Pinghui

The deadly new bird flu may pose a bigger threat to humans than the H5N1 bird virus that has killed hundreds of people worldwide, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist warned yesterday.

Ho Pak-leung became the first expert to publicly express fears it could become a pandemic.

The H7N9 strain emerged in humans only last month and is so far contained to the mainland.

But it has already infected more people than the H5N1 virus has infected in the past 10 years.

Ho said the new virus showed a higher ability to be transmitted rapidly from birds to humans and to spread geographically.

And because infected birds appeared healthy, it was also harder to detect.

Ho said: "The pathology pattern of H7N9 so far is very special and quite different from H5N1.

"But the pattern points to one alarming conclusion - it may be a bigger health threat than H5N1."

He said news that a four-year-old Beijing boy was found to have the virus despite not showing any flu symptoms was a "warning sign" for a pandemic.

"It is possible for the virus to grow more adaptable to the human body … and eventually becoming transmittable among humans," he said.

The number of confirmed H7N9 cases has reached 63 - and 14 have died, according to the national health commission.

A boy who is now under medical observation in hospital was screened for the virus after coming into close contact with the capital's first H7N9 case, a seven-year-old girl. So far, H7N9 has emerged in Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang , Jiangsu , Henan and Anhui , as well as in Beijing.

"The previous H5N1 pandemic never affected so many provinces at the same time," Ho said.

H5N1 has infected 45 people on the mainland since 2003, killing 30.

Hong Kong was hit by an early outbreak in 1997, with six deaths, before the virus re-emerged in 2003 to spread throughout the world, claiming some 332 lives by late 2011.

Yuen Kwok-yuen, head of microbiology at HKU, said if infected people do not develop symptoms, the disease will get harder to control.

The husband of one of the H7N9 victims was confirmed to be infected with the virus 10 days after her death, sparking fears the virus could be passed between humans.

Respiratory diseases expert Dr Zhong Nanshan said it was too early to rule out the possibility of human-to-human transmission.

Zhong said: "We can only say that based on the evidence so far, no human-to-human transmission has been detected. But that does not mean it is not possible."

Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected with the avian flu virus: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with the H7N9 who have died; and pink, those with H1N1 avian flu virus.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

scmp: Adventurers find insurance not best policy


中國招商局保險有限公司: 不保熱氣球,不保背包旅行(?!),不保乘電單車。

中國建設銀行: 不保乘撘飛機(!!)

恒生銀行昆士蘭(香港)有限公司: 不保攬球


Travellers need to read the small print in documents to make sure they are covered for risky activities and visits to all countries

Amy Nip amy.nip@scmp.com

Trekking at high altitude, hang-gliding, hitch-hiking or just taking part in an exciting race of some sort are activities usually offered in tour packages for adventurous travellers.

But it pays to check your insurance cover carefully before you leap out of a plane because these adventures are not necessarily covered.

Travel insurance coverage hit the spotlight last month after the hot-air balloon tragedy in Egypt. Nine Hongkongers died in the crash, but only three families received compensation. The other six families were told the victims' insurance packages did not cover hot-air balloon rides.

Policies offered by major banks and travel agencies have different exclusion clauses or do not cover accidents involving certain activities. Except for flying as a passenger in a commercial airliner, aviation activities such as ballooning, parachuting and para-gliding may not be covered.

Many insurers will also not cover diving to a depth of more than 30 or 40 metres, trekking higher than 5,000 metres and any form of racing, except if it is on foot.

Bad luck too if you are hurt or killed during a riot, civil war, revolution, by terrorists or by radioactive contamination.

Flight delays caused by strikes and industrial action which were in progress when the insurance was applied for may not be compensated. If there was a threat of a strike when a traveller bought the insurance and they are then delayed when the industrial action actually happens, they may not be compensated, some insurance agents cautioned.

Insurers also do not want to know about sexually transmitted diseases and problems arising from alcohol or drugs.

Lost jewellery, mobile phones and computers are sometimes excluded. Losses from credit cards not reported to the police and the card issuers within 24 hours will not be compensated.

China Merchants Insurance, which insured the six uncompensated hot-air balloon victims, does not cover hitch-hiking, backpacking and motorcycling.

A package offered by Hang Seng Bank in conjunction with QBE General Insurance (Hong Kong) does not cover mountaineering - which reasonably requires the use of ropes or guides - ski-jumping, use of bob-sleighs, pot-holing, bungee jumping and rugby.

AIA specially excludes visits to Afghanistan, Cuba, Congo, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Sudan and Syria.

Hong Kong Insurance Practitioners General Union vice-chairman Andy Fung Chi-yuen said the insurers had to put in the exclusions when they lowered the premiums to win customers.

It was not the exclusions, but failure to explain them in detail that resulted in consumers buying packages that were not suitable for their tours, he said.

"Sometimes tour agencies' insurance representatives may not be able to explain the packages in detail during the short transaction time," he said.

Also, they might not be as careful as insurance agents when selling insurance because their livelihood did not depend on it.

If they get their insurance licence revoked because of breaches, "they can still sell tour packages or other products to travellers", Fung said.

Buying travel insurance on the internet is also risky because buyers will have to read the fine print themselves.

scmp: Testing begins on live poultry imports



Live imports will be stopped if health officials find the H7N9 virus in any of the livestock

Lo Wei wei.lo@scmp.com

The city began testing imported live poultry for the H7N9 virus yesterday in response to the outbreak on the mainland which has killed 10 people.

In addition to the regular tests for the H5 virus, imported live poultry will now be subjected to the H7 rapid test before being sold, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said.

About 7,000 live chickens were imported from the mainland each day before the emergence of the new bird flu virus. The number fell to around 4,000 by last week, according to the department.

"Though bird flu is not threatening Hong Kong yet, people are worried. We have been selling fewer live chickens," said Steven Wong Wai-chuen, chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association.

"As there is lower demand, fewer chickens are being imported," he said, estimating that sales of live chicken in Hong Kong have dropped by 40 per cent and that of frozen chicken is down by 20 to 30 per cent.

"It's no use lowering the prices, people are worried and they won't buy it no matter how cheap. We only hope that the source of infection will be found soon," he said.

All live poultry imports will be stopped if any bird is found to have the H7N9 virus and the government will consider culling them, the department said.

The H7N9 bird flu virus claimed another life on the mainland yesterday and five more people were confirmed to have contracted it.

That brings to 38 the number of cases confirmed by mainland authorities since the first on March 31, with 10 dead.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim visited St Francis' Canossian School in Wan Chai yesterday to inspect precautionary measures against bird flu in the school.

Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected with the avian flu virus: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with the H7N9 who have died; and pink, those with H1N1 avian flu virus.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

REUTERS: Deadly new bird flu vindicates controversial research



By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON | Thu Apr 4, 2013 10:27am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists in the Dutch city of Rotterdam know precisely what it takes for a bird flu to mutate into a potential human pandemic strain - because they've created just such mutant viruses in the laboratory.

So as they watch with some trepidation the emergence in China of a strain of bird flu previously unknown in humans, they also argue it vindicates their controversial decision to conduct these risky experiments despite fierce opposition.

Above all else, what the world needs to know about this new strain of H7N9 bird flu is how likely it is to be able to spread efficiently among human populations.

And according to Ab Osterhaus, a world leading flu researcher who is head of viroscience of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, studies his team and another in the United States have been doing are the best way to find out.

"At the moment we don't know whether we should go for a full-blown alert or whether we can sit back and say this is just a minor thing," Osterhaus told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"(To answer that) we need to know what this virus needs to become transmissible."

With 10 cases of the new H7N9 bird flu confirmed in people in China since Sunday, including four deaths, Beijing is mobilizing resources against the threat.

Japan and Hong Kong said they had also stepped up vigilance against the virus, and Vietnam banned imports of Chinese poultry.


The scientific work that can answer key risk questions is known as "gain of function" or GOF research. Its aim is to identify combinations of genetic changes, or mutations, that allow an animal virus to jump to humans.

By finding the mutations needed, researchers and ultimately health authorities are better prepared to assess how likely it is that a new virus could become dangerous and if so how soon they should begin developing drugs, vaccines and other scientific defenses.

Yet such work is highly controversial.

When two teams of scientists announced in late 2011 they had found out how to make a another strain of bird flu - H5N1 - into a form that could spread between people, alarm bells rang so loudly at the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) that it took the unprecedented step of seeking to censor publication of the studies.

In a series of GOF experiments, the scientists induced mutations into the H5N1 virus that made it transmissible among mammals through droplets in the air.

The NSABB said it feared details of the work, carried out by Ron Fouchier at the Rotterdam lab and by a second team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, could fall into the wrong hands and be used for bioterrorism.

"The fear was that they were making a monster," said Wendy Barclay, a flu virologist at Imperial College London.

An acrimonious debate ensued and flu researchers around the world agreed to a year-long moratorium on further experiments of this type until fears could be allayed.

Yet throughout the moratorium, some scientists argued the research was vital to preparing for the next flu pandemic, and that to abandon it would leave the world in the dark when new flu strains emerged.


Barclay, who was a signatory on an open letter in January from 40 scientists calling for an end to the moratorium on bird flu transmissibility research, says current events in China underline why.

"What this H7N9 emergence does is show for sure that flu will emerge at regular intervals from animal sources," she said.

"And it underscores the fact that for each virus, we don't know whether it will be readily transmissible between humans when it emerges, or whether it will turn out to be a zoonotic dead end because when it reaches the human host there are barriers it can't overcome."

Some scientists, however, remain unconvinced of the value of deliberately manipulating viruses in laboratories - however secure they may be - to create and then analyze mutant flu strains that can spread between mammals.

Writing in the scientific journal Nature last week, Simon Wain-Hobson, chair of the Washington-based Foundation for Vaccine Research in the United States, accused flu researchers of going down a dangerous blind alley.

"The world has never been more densely populated," he wrote. "Is it appropriate for civilian scientists to make microbes more dangerous?"

Osterhaus, who has looked at genetic sequencing data from the new H7N9 bird flu strain samples in China and found some worrisome mutations have already occurred in the H7N9 strain, says such concerns are far outweighed by the fear of not knowing the potential risk of an emerging new virus.

"This virus might be on the brink of gaining function of transmissibility (in humans). I think it's crucial to know the rules of the game."

(Editing by Will Waterman)

scmp: DNA points to poultry markets as H7N9 transmission route

港大: H7N9可能來自禽鳥養殖場而非野生禽鳥。

HKU flu virologist who helped crack genetic code of H7N9 says evidence suggests wild birds do not play a role in transmission of the virus

Lo Wei wei.lo@scmp.com

A Hong Kong professor who was among the first to crack the DNA code of the H7N9 virus suspects poultry farms are the direct transmission route of the current outbreak and it has little to do with wild birds.

In order to trace the route of infection and control the virus, the next step would be to investigate poultry markets and then farms - a difficult task that would require extensive sampling, said Malik Peiris, a flu virologist at the University of Hong Kong.

It is unlikely wild birds are involved in the transmission route, as this particular H7N9 gene pattern has not been found in them so far.

However, wild birds may have been part of the gene reassortment process that occurred earlier. The virus most likely originated from wild birds in Europe and Asia.

There is no evidence of human to human transmission at the moment, but that risk would rise if people are infected.

More cases would make mutations more likely, increasing the chance it will become transmittable between humans.

Finding the virus in other mammals such as pigs or dogs would also elevate that risk as the virus might have adapted to mammals, Peiris said.

Poultry markets are most likely to be the direct source of infection in these recent cases in eastern China, given previous studies he had done on bird flu.

"The virus can enter one bird and stay in the market for a long time, and humans have a lot of contact with these poultry," said Peiris, a specialist in animal and human influenza viruses.

The virus can enter one bird and stay in the market for a long time, and humans have a lot of contact with these poultry

Malik Peiris, flu virologist at the University of Hong Kong

"The next question would be how the virus got into the poultry markets in the first place."

Sampling work will need to be done at farms supplying the markets to find which species have been infected.

He suspects mainland authorities are already working on that. H7N9 has already been found in some poultry markets in Shanghai.

"We are trying to understand what allowed the virus to jump to humans and what made it so pathogenic," Peiris said.

The World Health Organisation's Chinese National Influenza Centre in Beijing sequenced the viral DNA from each of the first three human cases - two in Shanghai and the third in Anhui province - and published them in an online flu sequence database on March 31.

Researchers around the world have since been analysing them.

What is known is the virus' eight genes came from three sources - two groups of wild bird viruses and one group of H9N2 poultry virus.

There are genetic characteristics which enabled the virus to bind to humans. H9N2 has been widely spread in poultry over the past 15 years in many parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Gene reassortments are "chance events and unpredictable". It requires two viruses to infect one animal at the same time, which is not very common, Peiris said. "Most of the time they do not cause any problems to birds and humans."

But sometimes the genetic combinations were unsuitable for the virus and it dies, but in other circumstances the new arrangement is advantageous and the virus thrives.

The H7N9 virus has so far claimed seven lives and infected at least 24 people in China. The latest victim being a 64-year-old man in Shanghai who died on Sunday.

In 1997, the H5N1 virus killed six of 18 people who contracted it in Hong Kong and led to an unprecedented mass culling of 1.4 million birds and the closure of the trade for two months.

Scientists said that prevented a pandemic.

Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected with the avian flu virus: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with the H7N9 who have died; and pink, those with H1N1 avian flu virus.

Monday, April 8, 2013

scmp: Tributes flow for Thatcher, giant of 20th century

Margaret Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady' who led Britain from 1979 to 1990 and reluctantly negotiated HK's return to China, has died of a stroke at 87

Ng Kang-chung and Agence France-Presse in London

Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister who negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration settling the future of Hong Kong, has died. She was 87.

A towering figure on the world stage during some of the most momentous events in modern history, and Britain's longest serving leader of the 20th century, Thatcher died after a stroke at her London home yesterday.

World leaders paid tribute to Britain's first woman prime minister, a right-wing titan and key cold war figure.

"It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announce that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke," family spokesman Tim Bell said, referring to Thatcher's children.

Dubbed the "Iron Lady" when she led Britain from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher developed dementia in later years and rarely appeared in public. Her daughter revealed that Thatcher had to be repeatedly reminded that her husband Denis had died in 2003. And doctors told Thatcher after a series of strokes a decade ago to quit public speaking.

US President Barack Obama called her a "true friend" of America, while German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel hailed her as an "extraordinary leader".

The man occupying the office today to which Thatcher was first elected in 1979, David Cameron, called her "a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton". He said she would receive a "ceremonial funeral with military honours" at St Paul's Cathedral on a date to be confirmed, but not a state funeral.

A frequent visitor to Hong Kong, Thatcher admitted in her 1993 memoirs that she felt "depressed" at the prospect of giving up the city, though she later praised the "brilliance" of her opposite number in the 1982 negotiations, Deng Xiaoping .

When this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng's ['one country, two systems'] idea

In a 2007 radio interview with Hong Kong businessman David Tang Wing-cheung, she said that before the 1982 talks she had wanted "a continuation of British administration" in Hong Kong. "But when this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng's ['one country, two systems'] idea," she said.

Tang, who had planned to visit Thatcher this summer, described her as one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century.

"She expressed regret and disappointment in the interview," he said. "Of course, she was speaking from the perspective that Britain lost Hong Kong. She was not expressing regret about Hong Kong's situation after the handover. She cared very much about Hong Kong. I met her quite often and every time she would ask how Hong Kong was doing.

"I remember … many rich people did not want her to hand Hong Kong over to China. But now after the handover, it proves that what she did was correct."

Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming recalled an hour-long private meeting with Thatcher in 1994: "My impression was that she really cared about Hong Kong and its future." He believed she achieved a "not-too-bad" deal with Beijing.

Thatcher last visited the city in 1997 - for the handover she had negotiated 15 years earlier.