Initial results of a gene sequencing by Chinese microbiologists show that a suspected SARS case in southern China "may possibly" be severe acute respiratory syndrome (search), the government said Friday -- even as international tests on the man continued in Hong Kong.

The brief announcement by the official Xinhua News Agency was marked as urgent but was unusually tentative in its language. It quoted the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (search) in southern China's Guangdong province.

China Central Television's midday newscast also issued a similarly tentative report on the gene sequencing. No further details were immediately available.

World Health Organization (search) officials have said in recent days that some tests on the 32-year-old TV producer came back positive while others were negative. WHO spokesman Roy Wadia was not immediately available to comment on the Xinhua report.

The announcement came as scientists in Hong Kong tested samples from a suspected SARS case in China on Friday, joining the international effort to clear up the mystery.

China agreed to a WHO request to send samples to a laboratory outside its mainland after repeated tests on the patient in its southern province of Guangdong produced inconclusive results.

Tests were under way Friday at two WHO-affiliated laboratories in Hong Kong, Wadia said earlier. Hong Kong is Chinese territory, but the former British colony's health system operates independently of mainland authorities.

"These samples are being tested as we speak. But when the results will be released is unclear," Wadia said.

The patient in Guangdong is China's first suspected new case of severe acute respiratory syndrome since July. He was hospitalized Dec. 20.

The world's first case of what would come to be known as SARS was recorded in Guangdong (search) in November 2002.

The flu-like illness killed 349 people on China's mainland and a total of 774 around the world. More than 8,000 were sickened.