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Hong Kong Quarantines Citizens Exposed to SARS - 2003-04-10

Hong Kong is in the midst of a health emergency brought on by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and now will quarantine people exposed to the disease. The disease appears to be spreading from one building to another in densely populated areas.

Hong Kong's director of health Margaret Chan says those who have lived with or come into close contact with a victim of the disease would be forced to remain at home or taken to an isolation camp. "Contacts who do not comply with this home confinement arrangement, we would remove them to designated places for isolation," she said. "The ordinance does prescribe imprisonment and fines. But to me, to control the spread of communicable diseases is more important."

Those quarantined will receive daily medical check ups.

About two weeks ago, Hong Kong quarantined hundreds of people from the Amoy Gardens apartment complex, where almost 300 people fell ill with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, known as SARS.

Part of the complex was sealed off after investigators determined environmental factors could be spreading the disease. Thousands of people live in the complex, in a crowded part of the city.

Dozens of cases also have been reported in nearby buildings in recent days, fueling worries that sewage, cockroaches or rodents could be transmitting SARS.

Hong Kong and mainland China have reported the highest numbers of SARS infections and deaths, more than 2,000 cases and 80 deaths. Hong Kong has reported 28 new cases, the smallest daily increase in almost a week.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 2,700 cases, and at least 100 deaths worldwide. Victims of the disease suffer severe flu-like symptoms, and usually develop a potentially deadly form of pneumonia.

In Asia, many countries are taking stern measures in an attempt to block the spread of SARS.

Malaysia is denying visas to most Hong Kong residents and travelers from China. Hong Kong officials say they are worried that other countries will follow suit.

Singapore says it will quarantine workers arriving from China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam for at least 10 days. That could affect about 600 foreign workers arriving in Singapore during the next month.