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Happy ending for Indians in Hong Kong scare

Hong Kong, May 4 (Reuters): A major health scare ended happily for 10 Indian sailors, who were released from a Hong Kong hospital and declared free of the virus after their tanker made an emergency stop in the territory when members of its crew showed symptoms of SARS.

Hong Kong health authorities released the 10 crew members of a chemical tanker from a hospital late today after declaring them free of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) disease.

Paramedics had rushed the 10 seamen to hospital earlier in the day after the Malaysian-flagged Bunga Melawis Satu made an emergency stop in the territory because they were showing symptoms of SARS.

But the drama, watched by dozens of journalists from a government-owned yacht moored near the tanker, turned out to be just a health scare for SARS-hit Hong Kong.

“The 10 sailors are confirmed not to have SARS,” said a government spokeswoman. “They have been released and arrangements have been made for them to return to their ship.”

Ten of the 24-member crew had complained of fever, coughs and body aches while at sea after leaving Thailand on April 28, and their captain made an urgent request on Friday to stop off in Hong Kong for medical help.

The symptoms are all associated with SARS, which has killed more than 430 people and infected more than 6,500 worldwide.

Hong Kong is one of the worst affected cities, but it has seen new infections fall recently.

The government reported five more deaths and eight new infections today, the lowest daily number of new cases since the outbreak began in early March.

A new worry emerged last week when 12 recovered SARS patients were re-admitted with fresh symptoms, but none of them was found to have the virus, health officials said today.

“It has been confirmed that they did not suffer relapses of the disease, but rather, they had caught other diseases while they were recovering,” said Hospital Authority’s Liu Shao-haei.

Assistant director of health Cindy Lai told reporters earlier that no one in the crew had a fever when paramedics examined them on the vessel, but the 10 who had complained of sickness were taken to hospital anyway for thorough check-ups.

A port source said the vessel had been in Singapore and Malaysia just before it docked in Thailand, from which it sailed on April 28.

The government spokeswoman said arrangements were being made for the tanker to leave.

The vessel was originally bound for Guangzhou in southern China before it stopped in Hong Kong.

Since the outbreak began in Hong Kong in early March, more than 1,600 people have been infected and 184 have died.

SARS is caused by a new, rapidly-mutating member of the corona family of viruses and air travellers have carried the disease over the last two months.

The virus usually takes between two and seven days to incubate before a victim begins to show flu-like symptoms.

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