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Sunday, 14 October, 2001, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
NY urged not to panic over anthrax
Rockefeller Center
Tourists are still being shown round the NBC HQ
By BBC News Online's Joseph Winter in New York

After the chilling announcement that anthrax had come to this hectic, high-rise city of eight million people, New Yorkers are being urged not to panic.

Despite alarmist newspaper headlines such as "Bio-terrorism grips the Big Apple", many are overcoming their fears and carrying on with life as normal.

On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, with the autumn leaves starting to turn red and waft down onto the ground, Central Park was full of joggers, skaters and people out walking their dogs.


We'll show these people they can't keep us down

Emily Polito, jogger in Central Park
Around 350 NBC employees are being tested for anthrax but tourists are still being taken on guided tours of the broadcasting studios in the Rockefeller Center, where the bacteria was discovered.

However, pharmacies and doctors are being inundated with requests for Cipro, the antibiotic used to treat anthrax, and postal workers are concerned about what might be in some of the millions of letters they handle every day.

"It's obviously very scary," Emily Polito told BBC News Online.

"But we'll show these people they can't keep us down," she said as she warmed up for her regular Saturday morning jog.

Suspicious powder

She hasn't bought a gas mask or any Cipro because she trusts that the authorities here are on top of the situation.

NBC worker Erin O'Connor contracted anthrax after opening a letter addressed to presenter Tom Brokaw.

Several other news organisations have reported receiving letters containing suspicious powder, although these have all proved not to contain anthrax.

Central Park
Life goes on as normal for the joggers in Central Park
Strolling through Central Park, Mr Botello said that he would no longer open any letters or parcels which did not have the sender's name and address but he is otherwise sticking to his normal routine.

After the initial heart-in-the-mouth moment, New Yorkers are putting the scare into perspective - one treatable case in a city where more than 5,000 were killed in the 11 September attacks.

"They don't have it down yet, only killing one person [in Florida]. I'm not so concerned about bio-terrorism," said Olga Merediz as she walked her tiny chihuahua dog.

She is more concerned about another suicide attack and now avoids tall buildings, such as the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center.

She rides in the last carriage if she takes the subway because, "I think they'd put a bomb in the middle of the train and then I could run away down the tunnel."

She is doing her best to lead a normal life but at home she has a bag packed with a torch, a battery-operated radio, water, dog-food and tuna fish and she has closed the air vents in her bathroom "in case I have to spend three or four days in there".

Rationing

I did not meet anyone in Central Park who had rushed out to buy any Cipro but pharmacists tell a different story.

"I get at least a dozen calls a day," said one chemist in Manhattan. "But the wholesaler isn't delivering any."

Norman Saban of the Village Apothecary just 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the ruins of the World Trade Center is rationing Cipro to a week's supply of 14 tablets "because I have to keep some for HIV patients who need it too."

New York's indefatigable Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, says the city does have ample supplies of Cipro but has nevertheless urged doctors to "resist pressure" from their patients to prescribe it without good reason and has set up an anthrax helpline (1 877 817 7621).

Cipro
Chemists are rationing Cipro, the anthrax antibiotic
Underneath the sometimes exaggerated headlines, local newspapers all have several pages devoted to explaining anthrax - how it can be caught and how it can be treated.

But some postal workers are concerned they could contract anthrax by handling a contaminated letter.

"As long as we are here, we are at risk. We have no masks," mail handler Ray David from the Rockefeller Post Office told The New York Post immediately after the anthrax was discovered.

But by Saturday afternoon, fears were starting to recede.

Mrs J Bloomer from New York's main Post Office told BBC News Online: "We don't open the letters. Only the addressee is in any danger, from what I understand in the newspapers."

"Anyway, I'm a Christian and I believe that it's all God's will, so what's gonna happen, will happen anyway."

See also:

13 Oct 01 | Health
Doctors given anthrax advice
13 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax 'may be linked to Bin Laden'
12 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: A widespread threat?
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: How do you stop it?
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
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