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Mongolia Adopts Tough Anti-SARS Measures


The potentially deadly, flu-like illness SARS has sent yet another country into a panic. China's neighbor, Mongolia, has introduced tough measures to cut the risk of infection after five people were suspected, but not confirmed, to have the virus. The potentially deadly, flu-like illness SARS has sent yet another country into a panic. China's neighbor, Mongolia, has introduced tough measures to cut the risk of infection, after five people were suspected, but not confirmed, to have the virus.

This Mongolian television program provides news and instructions on SARS - where it came from and how to prevent infection. Shows like this have been beamed across the vast steppes of Mongolia all week, and people started paying attention after five suspected SARS patients were quarantined here.

Those being monitored had all visited a hospital in Hohhot, China. Although they had gone to China for non-SARS related ailments, four of the five came back with a fever, which is one of the symptoms of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Doctor Udval Natsag, second in charge at the Ministry of Health, says Mongolia is being cautious with good reason. She says the Hohhot hospital had several confirmed cases of SARS, and so the possibility that the illness has spread north from China's Inner Mongolia region is very real.

"There has been contact with their friends and family, and Mongolia is a high risk, because we have a border with Inner Mongolia [in China]," the doctor pointed out. "Secondly, many Mongolians travel to Inner Mongolia every day. That is why we have to minimize transfer of SARS into Mongolia and we have to keep our population safe from this SARS infection."

Government television shows have announced somewhat drastic measures. Airline and train links to Hohhot have been cut for two weeks. Several border posts have been shut entirely. And teams of doctors are checking new arrivals at the airport.

In the capital, Ulaanbaatar, public gatherings have been banned, which has forced the shutdown of theaters and movies houses. And at night, there is an eerie calm, as bars and restaurants have been ordered shut by 10 p.m.

There is anxiety here about the health risks and economic impact. For now, the only people who appear to be making money are the dozens of hawkers selling masks on virtually every street corner.

Bugan Tsogoo, one of the mask vendors, says business was good the first couple of days, after they made they announcement. "Everyone wanted one, and we could charge 400 togrogs," about 40 cents. He sold 40 masks on the first day.

But Bugan Tsogoo had been a trader from the huge market outside the city. He was forced to go to the capital to try to make money after the SARS scare closed the market, and thousands like him found themselves out of work.

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