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SARS Spreads to India - 2003-04-17

In Asia, economists issued a gloomy forecast Thursday, largely because of the spread of SARS - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Based on a survey of government data, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported the outbreak has cost nearly 11 billion dollars so far, and could end up costing the region 50 billion in lost business and tourism. David Cohler reports:

In China where the SARS outbreak is believed to have begun, people did not need government statistics to know its economic effects. Merchants at Beijing markets catering to tourists say business is off by at least 50 percent. The few remaining tourists put on a brave - but carefully masked - face:

"We're not that afraid - but we're being cautious."

Foreign business travel is way off, too - apart from people whose livelihood is at risk.

"Yes, I know it is dangerous - but I have to do business in China."

Under increasing pressure from international health authorities, Chinese officials have announced additional measures aimed at controlling the disease. They opened two 24-hour SARS hotlines in Beijing. Both lines were busy Thursday, callers wanting to know the symptoms of SARS, and what medicines they need to treat it.

The outbreak has caused a run on pharmacies, where people are stocking up on both Western and Chinese traditional medicines.

The government also increased the number of health teams sent to disinfect airports, train and bus stations, and many business offices. Disinfectant spray has become part of the city's landscape. These measures are also in use in other Asian areas affected by the SARS outbreak - especially Hong Kong and Singapore.

And now add one more country. India, Thursday, reported its first confirmed case of SARS - a 32-year-old man in the West Coast State of Goa. He had just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore.