Hong Kong tourism, one of the twin pillars driving the territory's economic recovery, may be faltering as the outbreak of a mystery disease threatens to cut the city from tourists'...

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Hong Kong tourism, one of the twin pillars driving the territory’s economic recovery, may be faltering as the outbreak of a mystery disease threatens to cut the city from tourists’ itineraries.

The U.S. and Taiwan governments had advised their citizens as of last week to consider avoiding non-essential travel to Hong Kong because of the illness, which is being called severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS.

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The World Health Organization said nine people had died as of midweek out of 450 suspected cases, but said there was little chance of it becoming a world pandemic as initially had been feared. Hong Kong and China accounted for about 400 of the total cases with the remainder in Canada, Singapore and Vietnam and a few cases in Europe.


More information


World Health Organization: www.who.int/en

U.S. Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/


The outbreak comes as the situation with Iraq curbs international travel, threatening to leave Hong Kong with a reduced share of a shrinking market.

Record tourist arrivals helped Hong Kong’s economy expand 5 percent from a year earlier in the fourth quarter of 2002, its fastest growth in two years.

“Before this outbreak, we had already seen a slowdown,” said James Lu, executive director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association. “What we’re seeing now is a marginal slowdown on all fronts.”

“The cancellations started after the World Health Organization issued an advisory,” said Therese Necio-Ortega, a spokeswoman for the Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong.

Last weekend, WHO issued an advisory to make international travelers aware of the flu-like disease and countries where suspected cases have been recorded. Symptoms include a high fever and breathing difficulties that have landed some people in intensive care.

Researchers in Germany and Hong Kong identified a virus last week that may play a role in the pneumonialike illness.

Using an electron microscope to examine sputum and throat swabs from a Singapore physician hospitalized in Germany with the illness, the team found virus particles that appear to resemble paramyxoviruses, a common strain of viruses that cause many human diseases.

While the main concentration of cases is in Hong Kong and southern China, Vietnam has also been included in the U.S. and Taiwan governments’ travel advisories.