Fears of a first outbreak of severe acute respiratory disease (SARS) in Greece appeared to be dispelled yesterday after tests conducted in Germany indicated that a 36-year-old Chinese businessman hospitalized in Thessaloniki with suspicious symptoms had not contracted the often-fatal illness. A Health Ministry statement said the results of urgent tests conducted at the Bernhard-Nocht Institut for tropical medicine in Hamburg and sent to Greece yesterday afternoon proved negative. «The negative results significantly increase the possibility that the patient is not suffering from SARS,» a ministry statement said. It added that further tests would have to be conducted before the patient, identified as Mr Lin from the city of Xiamen in southeastern China, could be safely pronounced free of the virus that has killed 850 people worldwide. Most of the SARS cases have been in China. Lin first complained of cold-like symptoms on Monday, during a business trip to Drama in northern Greece, on which he was accompanied by a second Chinese man – who remained in good health yesterday. The two were taken to Thessaloniki’s Papanicolaou Hospital, where both were treated – the second man on precautionary grounds – in isolation. Another eight Greeks who came into contact with Lin were advised to stay at home for the next 10 days and notify the authorities if they felt ill. Initial tests conducted by Thessaloniki University doctors were conflicting. The first showed weak indications of SARS, while the second was negative. As a result, Greek health authorities turned to the Hamburg specialists. The second batch of tests will be conducted in two weeks’ time. Lin’s condition had improved yesterday, and his temperature had fallen.