Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Seal off borders to curtail SARS spread: economist

AGGRESSIVE APPROACH A top official of the Taiwan Institution of Economic Research says closing off the country for 10 days is better than months of warfare

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A top economist yesterday proposed sealing off the nation's borders for 10 days to halt the spread of SARS.

The ambitious proposal has a two-fold purpose -- kill the disease via a nationwide disinfection campaign and prevent new carriers from entering the country.

"Ten days of commercial losses is worth the trade off of fighting a protracted war against the disease for the next three months," said David Hong (洪德生), vice president of the Taiwan Institution of Econo-mic Research, at a business group meeting called to discuss measures to minimize the virus' impact.

His proposal was immediately endorsed by Gary Wang (王令麟), chairman of the General Chamber of Commerce (GCC, 商總).

"I agree. It's better to have short, sharp pain than a long and drawn out one," Wang said.

Wang later randomly polled the audience of some 30 representatives from SARS-hit businesses about the proposal. Fourteen gave a thumbs up to the idea, while seven were opposed.

Wang expressed hope that the business community would give the proposal serious consideration before he raises it with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Friday.

He also proposed the closing of stock and foreign exchange markets in order to eliminate "further bad financial news."

That idea was also well received among some business leaders who felt that it is better to err on the side of caution. Those opposed to the plan, however, said the big hurdle would be implementation.

"As part of the global trade body, Taiwan can't possibly isolate itself and cease all business activities for 10 days," said Alex Ro (羅仕清), a vice president at the Pacific Sogo Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨).

"As long as the epidemic is not contained in China, the virus can't possibly be wiped out here since returnees from China may still transmit the disease," Roh said.

"A 10-day sealing of the borders doesn't guarantee Taiwan will be virus-free for good," another business leader said.

At yesterday's meeting, SARS-hit industries complained of revenue declines of up to 80 percent in the past two months and said they expect even graver losses this month.

Tourism industry sales dropped by 70 to 80 percent in the past two months, while the conference industry has seen a 70 percent fall off in revenue. The taxi business, the movie industry, the freight industry and beauty salons have also witnessed drops of between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Representatives from those sectors urged the government to increase its NT$50 billion SARS-relief fund -- NT$20 billion of which will be offered in short-term loans to bail out businesses -- and simplify the application process.

"The NT$20 billion fund is too small," one attendee said.

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