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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Asia struggles with virus fears
Indonesian workers
Indonesia has declared the virus a national threat
Asia-Pacific countries are responding to the threat of Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but are struggling to control people's fear of the disease.

Across the region, increasingly draconian travel and quarantine restrictions are in place.

But the sense of fear among the general public continues to grow.

Even in countries like Indonesia, which has had no confirmed cases, the government has declared the disease a national threat.

Only in China, where the government is playing down any risk to the public, are people relatively unfazed.

In Hong Kong, the government is desperately trying to allay public fears after 708 reported cases of Sars.

Sars outbreaks in Asia
China 1190 cases (47 deaths)
Hong Kong 708 (16)
Singapore 98 (4)
Vietnam 59 (4)
Thailand 7 (2)
On Thursday, the government announced that it would extend the closure of schools until April 21.

Meanwhile the authorities are looking for 16 people who it said has failed to report to health authorities under a quarantine order.

Correspondents say that people on the streets of Hong Kong without surgical masks are treated with suspicion, as fear of the disease continues to rise.

In China, which has reported 1,190 cases of the disease, state media is playing down the threat of the disease.

The state-run China Daily reassured readers that the disease was under control.

The Chinese health minister Zhang Wenkang told a news conference that it was safe to work, tour and live in China.

On Thursday, a team of epidemiologists from the World Health Organisation (WHO) was allowed to visit Guangdong, the worst-hit province and the area thought to be the source of the disease.

China has been criticised for not reporting the spread of Sars accurately, and for not allowing the WHO team to visit Guangdong sooner.

But Chinese officials insist that they have been co-operating effectively with the WHO, and said that there was no evidence that the disease started in Guangdong.

Meanwhile, Thai officials have announced that they would quarantine whole plane loads of passengers if one passenger from a high risk country was found with Sars symptoms.

They are also reported to be monitoring sea-ports as well as airports for carriers of the disease.

Thailand has had seven cases of the disease so far, with two deaths.

In Japan, the government has announced that it has 14 suspected cases of Sars, and has advised against travel to China's Guangdong province and Hong Kong.

The Indonesian government has declared Sars a national health threat, and shops in Jakarta have been selling out of surgical masks.

However the small number of suspected cases of Sars in Indonesia have not been proven.

Taiwan, which has reported 14 cases of the disease, has cancelled a music festival after learning that some of the German performers had travelled in the same plane as a suspected Sars case.




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