Hong Kong, March 28 (Reuters): Asian governments quarantined more people and beefed up health checks today as they battled to contain a deadly and highly contagious pneumonia virus that has killed 54 people worldwide and infected around 1,500.
Singapore nearly doubled the number of people ordered to stay home to 1,514 as it tried to break the cycle of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, which has claimed two lives in the city state.
It is also blamed for 34 deaths in China, 11 in Hong Kong, four in Vietnam and three in Canada.
“We’re facing an unprecedented situation, this is a nine-eleven (September 11) for health, and w’ere not going to go back to the pre-SARS situation for some time — we’re in for the long haul,” said Singapore health minister Lim Hng Kiang.
Thailand and South Korea became the latest countries to issue travel warnings urging their citizens to avoid visiting China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam — worst hit by the disease — until the health crisis was brought under control.
The epidemic has forced the cancellation of concerts, holidays and business travel to many parts of Asia, in a blow to the region’s already sickly economies.
A Singapore analyst said lost retail sales and hotel bookings would cost the city $1.1 billion if the crisis lasted three months, but others accused the region of over-reacting.
“They’re bombing Iraq and you still see people walking around on the street out there,” said Chinese businessman Wang Junyao, the head of a private dairy company. “And the foreign media says you shouldn’t go to China'”
China, where the virus emerged late last year, has been accused of hiding the problem but the World Health Organisation said it had now agreed to make detailed daily reports.
In Hong Kong, computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co closed one of its main offices and sent 300 workers home after an employee was suspected of having contracted the disease.
HSBC Bank sent home 26 workers from an elite private banking counter at its headquarters after a teller caught the deadly disease.
The WHO has stressed the need to screen travellers in places where the virus has killed people, including China’s Guangdong province, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hanoi and Toronto.
Thailand said people visiting the worst-affected countries should wear a mask.