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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 05:44 GMT
Letters home: Hong Kong
BBC World Service's World Today programme is looking at the end of year letters of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary events in 2003.

2003 saw the outbreak of the Sars virus, which killed 300 people in Hong Kong. This is the letter from Eva Wong, an information system specialist working at the City University in Hong Kong.

It was a very tough time for Hong Kong last spring when Sars struck us.

People were so worried. We didn't dare go to restaurants or use public transport.

Schools closed for over a month, but we could not take the children anywhere. You should have heard how they complained about the masks!

Janice, my youngest, was a good girl and did what she was told, but not the boys.

I supposed the masks did make the atmosphere gloomier as they hid all the smiling faces.

Not that there were much to smile about. Every time we came home, we had to change out of our clothes quickly to have them washed, and the soles of our shoes had to be disinfected with diluted bleach.

The whole flat had to be disinfected every day and the hand washing was almost non-stop. Classes at the university were suspended for a couple of weeks but work carried on as normal for all staff.

Many businesses closed down and workers were laid off, compounding the misery.

We mustn't complain too much, we were the lucky ones. I felt really sorry for those people who lived in Amoy Gardens, Block E.

Due to the government's delayed decision to close affected hospitals, a man who had dialysis treatment at the Prince of Wales Hospital contracted the Sars virus and became a super-spreader.

He was okay himself, but many residents who live in the same block as him caught the virus, and more than the normal proportion of these infected people died.

It was scary. To us our home was the safest place, but these people got infected right in their homes where the "evil" lurked.

Mother and baby in Sars masks
One good thing came out of this epidemic: people became more aware of the importance of good hygiene and cleanliness
For some unexplained reasons, Hong Kong had the highest death rate from Sars in the world.

Probably the government mishandled things in the beginning. At one point, there weren't even enough masks for frontline nurses and doctors in the hospitals.

They served with their lives on the line and many were taken ill. Six died in the end.

One good thing came out of this epidemic: people became more aware of the importance of good hygiene and cleanliness.

The Government raised the fines for littering to HK$1500 - which is about US$192 - and you should see the difference this made to the streets!

We all hope that Sars will not strike anywhere again. In this day and age of globalisation and air travelling, nowhere is safe from a contagious virus like Sars.

2003 wasn't all bad, there were happy times too. My youngest sister, a registered nurse completed her Bachelor Degree and invited us to the graduation ceremony.

The solar-powered kart that my second son Laurence helped to build came second in the race.

I am sending my very best wishes. Have a lovely Christmas and a happy New Year!

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Eva Wong
"We mustn't complain too much, we were the lucky ones"


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