HK QUARANTINES DEADLY VIRUS FLATS



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Last Updated

31 Mar 2003

Source: BBC News, March 31, 2003

HK quarantines deadly virus flats

Hong Kong health officials have ordered the residents of an apartment building to be quarantined for 10 days in an effort to control a deadly new virus.

With the number of cases in the territory reported to be at least 622 on Monday, 213 have been linked to the Amoy Gardens housing estate in urban Kowloon where the block is situated.

Policemen and dozens of health workers in surgical masks, caps and coats are in the estate where current residents of Block E have been ordered to stay at home until midnight (1600 GMT) on 9 April.

The virus, known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has infected more than 1,550 people and killed at least 54 worldwide since first surfacing in southern China in November.

A World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Monday the virus may have come from an animal and is more infectious than the Ebola virus that ravaged parts of Africa.

Also speaking on Monday Hong Kong Health Secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong said that of the 213 cases at the Amoy Gardens estate, 107 were located in Block E alone.

The fact that most of these cases were from the same two apartment units on several floors of the building, raised the possibility that the virus was spreading vertically, he said.

Fear

Under the quarantine order, effective from 0600 Monday (2200 GMT Sunday), the confined residents will receive health inspections and free meals from the government for the duration.

But many residents of the estate have already fled, raising fears that they could carry the virus to other parts of the community.

Estate residents have been speaking of their terror in the face of SARS, which some now believe to be airborne, rather than spread by droplets from sneezing or coughing.

"I'm scared. I'm taking my temperature every day," said one woman resident. "I stayed at home for several days. It's terrifying. I think I'll get it sooner or later."

Hong Kong officials have now confirmed 13 deaths from the mystery bug in the territory alone.

In other moves, the authorities have closed schools and ordered more than 1,000 friends and family members of patients to also be quarantined from Monday.

Taiwan has quarantined at least 500 people in connection with SARS and is considering suspending travel links with China in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

A fourth death from the disease was reported in Singapore on Monday.

Culprit

The US Centers for Disease Control says SARS is caused by a Corona virus from the same family as that which causes the common cold.

However, a WHO official said on Monday that some work was still required to pin down the exact culprit.

Hitoshi Oshitani, WHO SARS coordinator, said: "I think we can identify the causative agent in quite a short time period. We think probably within a few days, at most a few weeks.

"But this doesn't mean we will find the specific treatment for this disease within the short time period."