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Countries in Asia Screen Airline Passengers for SARS - 2003-03-31

Countries around Asia are checking airline passengers for signs of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Health officials in New Zealand have declared Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a serious disease. That means people with symptoms will not be allowed to travel and will be given special medical attention if they arrive in the country.

Singapore, which has reported about 90 SARS cases and three deaths, announced nurses will screen outgoing and incoming airline passengers for SARS at its international airport.

Many countries are advising citizens to avoid traveling to China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam, where SARS cases are most common.

Asian airlines, which a few weeks ago began to see bookings fall because of concerns about the Iraq war, now are seeing a more rapid drop because of SARS. With fewer passengers, Hong Kong's main carrier Cathay Pacific is cutting back on flights, as is China Airlines, Taiwan's biggest carrier. Australia's Qantas Airways say it will cut international services by 20 percent.

Hong Kong on Monday quarantined the residents of a high-rise apartment building in the city's Kowloon district. Hong Kong Health Secretary Yeoh Eng-Kiong thanked the residents in Amoy Gardens for tolerating the quarantine, which will keep them housebound for at least 10 days. He explained that medical workers will visit residents daily to provide meals and check their health.

More than 200 residents of Amoy Gardens have been hospitalized with SARS symptoms. But many of the families in the complex fled their homes last week after some of their neighbors contracted SARS.

As of Monday evening, Hong Kong has reported 610 SARS cases, and 15 deaths. Together with China's Guangdong province, just across the border, southern China accounts for about two-thirds of the 1,600 cases reported globally.

SARS victims suffer a high fever and flu-like symptoms, and many develop a severe form of pneumonia. They can require weeks of hospitalization before recovering. Worldwide, more than 50 people have died from SARS.

A World Health Organization doctor in Manila said Monday that experts were on the verge of confirming whether a virus similar to the one that causes the common cold is responsible for SARS.