Hong Kong to quarantine 1,000 in flu scare

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The Independent Online

Hong Kong is to quarantine more than 1,000 people who may have been exposed to the deadly flu­like disease that has already claimed over 50 lives.

Hong Kong is to quarantine more than 1,000 people who may have been exposed to the deadly flu­like disease that has already claimed over 50 lives.

Mainland China's earlier disclosure of a sharply higher death toll from the illness spread fears of a wider outbreak across Asia, and Hong Kong researchers said today that they had found a virus that can infect people through such incidental contact as touching an elevator button.

Hong Kong is to close its schools; a precaution that Singapore has already taken, while the Taiwanese capital of Taipei declared a full medical alert after a major engineering company temporarily closed because five employees were suspected of being infected after a trip to China.

The illness, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has killed at least 53 people, mostly in Asia, and infected 1,300 others in more than a dozen countries.

Thousands of Hong Kongers wore surgical masks while going about town, giving this vibrant city the feel of a sprawling hospital ward, although the Health Department recommended masks only for people with flu­like symptoms so they won't infect others.

Hong Kong's government leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee­hwa, said that officials had ordered the quarantine of 1,080 people believed to have been in close contact with SARS victims. They are being urged to stay home and must check in regularly with health officials over a 10­day period starting Monday or they could be fined or jailed.

Tung said Hong Kong schools, except for universities, will close early for spring break, shutting from Saturday to April 6 as a precaution.

Researchers at Hong Kong University said today that their latest tests have identified a new virus from the Coronavirus family, which causes common colds, as the primary cause of SARS. But they said it might combine with a virus from the paramyxovirus family, which includes measles, mumps and canine distemper, that makes the effects worse.

One of the researchers, microbiology professor Malik Peiris, said the virus can survive in open air for a few hours and during that time can be transmitted through such contact as handshakes or even to someone pressing an elevator button previously touched by a disease victim.

However, the virus can be killed by wiping alcohol on infected areas, Peiris said.

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