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Flu-Like Illness Sparks Hong Kong Quarantine

March 28, 2003|From Associated Press

HONG KONG — The government said Thursday that it would quarantine more than 1,000 people and close its schools, while the World Health Organization urged airlines to screen passengers for the deadly flu-like illness that a U.S. official said is spreading faster than expected.

The Geneva-based U.N. agency fighting to contain the disease said passengers should be asked if they have flu-like symptoms or if they may have had contact with anyone infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The new warning about airline travel reflects heightened concern by the world health agency, which previously said the disease was unlikely to spread on airplanes. However, Hong Kong reported that nine passengers became ill from exposure to one passenger on a flight this month.

The health agency's request will go to the world's governments, and it will be up to them to decide whether to enforce it with airlines. There is no treatment for the disease.

Asian officials continued to take harsh measures to get the disease under control. Singapore, which quarantined hundreds of people, also shut its schools, and weekend concerts in Hong Kong by the Rolling Stones were postponed.

Those steps came a day after mainland China disclosed a sharply higher death toll for the flu-like illness, spreading fears of a wider outbreak.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents wore surgical masks while going about town. The health department recommended masks only for people with flu-like symptoms so they won't infect others.

The Taiwanese capital of Taipei declared a medical alert Thursday after a major engineering company temporarily closed because five of its employees were suspected of being infected. They recently had traveled to mainland China.

Hong Kong's government leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, said Thursday night that officials had ordered the quarantine of 1,080 people thought to have been in close contact with SARS victims. They are being urged to stay home and must check in regularly with health officials.

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