| A masked baby with her mother in Guangzhou, southern China. (Reuters)
Hong Kong, April 4 (Reuters): Hong Kong police launched a manhunt today for hundreds of people who were exposed to a deadly respiratory virus as World Health Organisation experts tried to nail down the source of the disease in southern China.
“If our health department colleagues think these people may infect other people, we’ll use minimal force to send them to hospital for treatment,” a police spokesman said.
The tough measure came after more than 10 staff at Hong Kong’s United Christian Hospital contracted the disease from a patient, raising fears a new wave of infections was beginning and the epidemic in the territory was far from being contained.
Hong Kong reported 27 new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) today, bringing its total to 761, the highest number of infections after mainland China’s nearly 1,200 cases. Shanghai said it had one confirmed SARS infection.
The disease, which can lead to pneumonia, has killed 82 people and infected over 2,400 worldwide, prompting concerns and leading economists to trim growth forcasts for parts of Asia after a plunge in tourist arrivials and sharp fall in airline flights.
More countries imposed tougher restrictions on visitors to try to stem the spread of the disease, which scientists say is caused by a previously unknown virus that might have originated in animals.
Thailand added Canada to its list of high-risk areas and said its doctors would board all flights from there on arrival to test passengers for symptoms of the virus. Canada has the third highest number of cases in the world and has had seven deaths.
Malaysia said all visitors would be required to make health declarations with immediate effect after a man died earlier this week, apparently from a flu-like virus.
Japan urged its citizens to exercise caution on trips to areas including Singapore, Hanoi, Taiwan, Macau and Toronto.
In Hong Kong, police hunted members of 113 families who had fled an apartment block in the crowded Kowloon district after a sudden outbreak of infections there.