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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Sars: The gnawing anxiety
By Bethan Jinkinson
BBC News Online

The Sars virus is not only having a physical impact on communities across the world. BBC News Online readers have told of the damaging psychological impact the disease is having.

"The news has become the biggest pressure in my daily life," said Wu Mingchueh in Taiwan.

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In practical terms, the fear which the disease has caused has actually been more disastrous than the disease itself
Dr Feng Yun, psychologist in Shanghai

"The news explodes every hour, even every second. How many people may have been exposed to the Sars virus and will be quarantined? Where will become the next Sars-infected district?", she said.

One Toronto resident described their life as a nightmare.

"Everyday I wake up with the feeling that I am playing Russian roulette with our lives. What if my sons will get it tomorrow at school? Should I keep them indoors? And if I don't, will this be the day I will regret for the rest of my life?"

Another man living in Shenzhen, south-east China, said: "Like many others in the region, I feel depressed due to the SARS fear. I have a three month old baby and I worry about my wife and baby the most."

Passengers waiting to get on a train at a Hong Kong underground station covers her mouth and nose
People are nervous in crowded places

"Even though we take precautions; wearing masks, washing hands, avoiding crowded places as much as possible, it is unavoidable to interact with people."

Dr Feng Yun, a psychologist who runs a Sars helpline in Shanghai, China's largest city, said the fear generated by the virus "has actually been more disastrous than the disease itself".

"It is a sort of Sars complex, with people wearing masks to go to work, washing their hands compulsively, and a kind of feeling of distance developing between people," he told the BBC.

Racism

One Taiwanese resident in the UK said that he had received racist abuse because of the Sars virus.

"When I came home from work tonight, two teenagers shouted 'Sars' at me, and made me start to worry about possible racist attacks on Oriental people," he said.

"I think the mass media....have portraited the Sars virus as an 'Oriental plague,' which is not helping the situation."

A mother puts a protective surgical mask on her son's face in Taiwan's southern port city of Kaoshiung
Mask-wearing is now common practice in many parts of East Asia

But some readers have reported that the disease has had some positive effects.

In Singapore, where the number of new cases has fallen dramatically, one resident told the BBC: "Life is slowly getting back somewhere near to normality in Singapore. I doubt it will ever be the same, but hopefully it will have changed for the better.

Hygiene in public places is improving, people seem to appreciate the need for increased personal cleanliness, and taking one's temperature has become part of the morning ritual," she said.

Ming in China said that living life as normal was the best response.

"If you are scared by Sars every day, you will be beaten by it. Just ignore it and keep psychologically healthy," he said.


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