Hundreds of Taiwanese sailors who arrived in Haiti on Thursday stirred panic among residents who fear the foreigners could be carrying severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The government tried to reassure Haitians, saying the sailors posed no health risks, but few residents listened. Children whose schools were located near the ship were told by parents to stay home. Listeners called radio stations voicing their concern over the visit. And union leaders called on the government to disinfect the port after the visit.
"There isn't any medical care for the poor. Of course, we're in a panic!" said Vierge Jean, 44, who refused to let her daughter join hundreds of flag-waving children who greeted the three military vessels.
The sailors began their goodwill journey Feb. 28 before SARS began to spread throughout Asia.
Although the sailors also stopped in El Salvador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Dominican Republic, Haiti was the only country to report panic.
Haiti, where superstition runs deep, is no stranger to hysteria. In 1998 during a solar eclipse, the government shut down the country to prevent panic. Still, four died after drinking poison and suffocating from being locked in a house stuffed with rags to block the sun's rays.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," said spectator Franck Milfranck, 49, a supporter of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who greeted the sailors and met with Republic of China Ambassador Hsieh Hsin Ping.
Haiti and the ROC are diplomatic allies.