Masks have become essential in Hong Kong as people try to avoid catching Sars
Guests from the Far East have had their invitations to an Italian film festival cancelled because of the deadly Sars virus.
The Far East Film Festival is a showcase for Asian films, but plans for this year's event have been thrown into turmoil by the disease.
Authorities in the north-eastern Italian region have asked the Far East Film Festival to withdraw invitations to about 22 delegates from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan including actors, producers and directors.
Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche (CEC), which organises the festival, says it has no choice but to comply with the regulations.
But it has sent its apologies to the guests saying the situation was beyond its control.
One of the main problems has been the perceived threat of local people in the small town of Udine, where the festival is held, about the Sars virus.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has killed more than 90 people and infected 2,700 worldwide.
CEC said there had been widespread panic in the town over fears that people from the Far East would bring the virus to Italian soil.
Although there are no travel restrictions on people from the Far East, the World Health Organisation has warned about large gatherings of people from Eastern Asian areas.
Although CEC said it was saddened by the news of the enforced cancellations, it said it was convinced there would be a large number of guests at the festival who would have been thinking twice about attending screenings where they thought there might be a risk.
A spokesman for CEC had said one hotel in Udine had cancelled reservations from all guests involved in the festival, including those from Asian countries which have not been affected by Sars.
The organisation said while it regretted the tough decision that has been made it looked forward to welcoming everyone to the event in 2004.
CEC said it would not cancel the festival because of the amount of preparation that has gone in to it, and that film prints have already arrived in Udine.
The festival is to held in the northern Italian town of Udine from 24 April to 1 May.