Tue, Apr 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kong reports 100 new SARS cases

AFP , HONG KONG

Hong Kong took drastic measures yesterday to combat a killer pneumonia as nearly 100 more cases were reported in the territory amid growing disruption to travel and business across Asia.

The increasingly fraught battle to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) came as the US authorities warned the virus could be more contagious than first thought and advised against travel to parts of Asia.

The mysterious illness has now infected more than 1,700 people in 15 countries and killed at least 59 people. It erupted in southern China, spread to Hong Kong and has been taken worldwide by airline passengers.

Shocked by an eruption of cases at the Amoy Gardens estate in Kowloon district, the Hong Kong authorities took the unprecedented measure of ordering the complete isolation of the housing block.

A total of 213 cases have been diagnosed at the estate, including 92 new cases overnight, Health Secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong told reporters yesterday.

"We have been very alarmed at the outbreak in this particular housing estate," Yeoh said, adding the order was enforced by police.

During the isolation period, no one will be allowed to enter or leave the estate without permission in writing of a health officer. Medical personnel will visit residents, who will be given three meals a day free of charge.

The respiratory illness has now killed 13 people and infected nearly 630 others in Hong Kong.

Yeoh said the possibility of a newly mutated form of the virus that could undergo airborne transmission or survive extended periods of time on open surfaces could not be ruled out.

The SARS outbreak has already left a trail of empty restaurants and shopping malls. The streets of the former British colony are noticeably quiet, and many of those venturing outside are wearing masks.

A quarantine law invoked as part of tougher measures to contain the illness, which included the closure of all schools until Sunday, also took effect yesterday as fears grew about the impact on the local economy.

Dutch banking group ABN Amro yesterday cut its GDP forecast for Hong Kong this year by 0.5 percentage points to 3.5 percent.

The outbreak is also starting to impact on airlines which have begun rearranging schedules as demand for tickets to areas such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam plunges.

Hong Kong-based Dragonair said yesterday it had cancelled 10 flights to China and Taiwan because of a drop in bookings, and other local carrier Cathay Pacific said it would also soon announce cancellations.

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