Nations urged not to ban travelers from Hong Kong

Spread of SARS disease leads Malaysia, Singapore to restrict arrivals

April 12, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HONG KONG - Hong Kong officials struggled yesterday to persuade other countries not to ban travelers leaving here, as cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome continued to grow.

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, announced at a news conference yesterday evening that the family members of SARS victims would not be allowed to board departing flights. The government has twice ordered such family members to stay home, and restrictions on their movements have been tightened.

Tung also said the territory would work with airlines to develop a system for taking the temperature of all passengers before allowing them to board planes. Anyone with a fever would be referred to doctors at the airport.

Malaysia and Singapore have restricted the entry of travelers arriving from Hong Kong. Territory officials are worried that other governments might do the same after a businessman here flew on seven Lufthansa flights from March 30 through April 5 despite developing SARS symptoms early in the trip.

Other countries "should not worry about people from Hong Kong spreading the disease," Tung said.

Dr. Lam Pak-yan, a deputy director of the Hong Kong Department of Health, said no decision had been made on whether civil or criminal charges could be filed against the man who was on the Lufthansa flights. The man, 48. has not been publicly identified and remains in a hospital here.

Dr. Liu Shao-Haei, a senior executive manager at the Hospital Authority, said 61 new cases were recorded in Hong Kong yesterday.

The territory logged 28 new cases Thursday, but government officials issued a statement late last night saying that a change in their counting method had pushed back the recording of some cases from Thursday to yesterday so the number of new cases was not as high as originally thought.

, Nineteen new cases were reported yesterday in mainland China, seven in Singapore, four in Japan, two in Taiwan, and one each in Canada, France, Malaysia and South Africa. according to the World Health Organization.

In addition, the United States reported 12 new suspected cases; unlike most countries, the United States reports suspected cases, and not just probable or confirmed cases.

Mainland China has been accused by doctors there of not reporting many cases, perhaps partly by using a narrow definition of SARS that covers only the sickest patients. Hong Kong also has used a fairly narrow definition, counting only people who have developed pneumonia in addition to other SARS symptoms.

Two men with SARS, ages 79 and 81, died here yesterday, while 15 patients were discharged from hospitals.

Hong Kong's health department reported a new cluster of cases at a senior citizens home, as three elderly people fell ill. Doctors here have found that the older the patient, the more likely they are to die if infected with SARS. Officials have been trying to keep nursing homes free of the disease.

The Hong Kong Red Cross has begun a campaign to raise money for buying masks and other protection devices for the elderly.

However, Hong Kong has little tradition of private philanthropy, and many of its wealthiest citizens have been fleeing lately, sometimes renting private jets to do so.

The only large donation when the campaign started a week ago was from an American bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, which has offices here and contributed about $64,000.

Donations from local businesspeople have begun to pick up in recent days, said Wilson Wong, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Red Cross.

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