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Hong Kong Schools Remain Closed as Deadly Pneumonia Spreads - 2003-04-03

Hong Kong schools will remain closed for a few more weeks in hope of stemming the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The city, which is at the center of a global battle against SARS, is struggling to determine why the disease continues to spread, despite efforts to contain it.

Secretary of Education Arthur Li announced that children will go back to their classes on April 22.

Schools had been set to reopen next Monday after a one-week suspension was ordered last week. The city has also quarantined more than a 1,000 people who may have been exposed to SARS.

Hong Kong is the center of a global SARS outbreak. At least 734 people in Hong Kong have been diagnosed with SARS, and 17 have died from it.

The World Health Organization warns travelers to avoid Hong Kong and southern China because of worries that SARS could quickly reach epidemic proportions. But the WHO thinks that SARS outbreaks in Vietnam and Singapore have been contained.

The number of Hong Kong cases jumped sharply last week, as more than 200 people in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex fell ill. Scientists suspect most of those residents were exposed to a single source of infection that was unique to the building.

Joseph Bresee, a Hong Kong-based epidemiologist from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, said researchers are hunting for that source. "There was this huge Amoy Gardens outbreak that involved over 200 people," he said. "We also have the observation there are lots of other people in the town sick who lived in apartment buildings that have not had huge outbreaks, so as an epidemiologist, I think you focus on these differences."

While SARS has spread to 13 counties during the past month, the majority of the world's 2,000 cases are in southern China and Hong Kong.

Victims of the disease suffer severe flu-like symptoms that rapidly progress to pneumonia. The disease is fatal in about three to five percent of SARS cases.