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Atypical Pneumonia - SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

SARS - click to send as e-cardIt is getting quite serious. It is no longer just spread around those who have had contact with the original patients who were in the Prince of Wales Hospital. The major war zone has moved to the Amoy Gardens in Ngau Tau Kwok, a crowded residential-cum-industrial area in Kowloon (it is actually right next to the Kowloon Bay MTR station).

The Amoy Gardens is where lives one person who visited ward 8A of the Prince of Wales Hospital. On Wednesday 2003.3.26, seven residents were infected there. Spreading of the virus there went beyond the family of the patient. At the time of writing (2003.3.29), the total Amoy Gardens infections has gone up to 63.

Built 21 years ago, there are 8 units on each floor of Block E of the Amoy Gardens with about 400 square ft each. With 36 floors, there are a total of 288 families living there. It is still not certain how it had spread though it is believed that it could have been through sharing the same elevator, either at the same time or from touching the buttons.

There are certainly a lot of buttons to push in Hong Kong. Typically when a resident leaves his home, he presses the button to get the elevator. Once inside, he presses "G" to get to the ground floor, and given the impatient nature of most HK residents, he probably also presses the "door close" button. When he gets to the ground floor, he presses the "open" button for the electric lock to the front gate and opens the gate by the handle. Any one of those can pass the virus onto his neighbors, let alone droplets from his sneezing and coughing.

It is feared that the virus will further spread to the community. With 288 families, the "network" reaches all sectors of the community. A couple of banks have closed temporarily because one of their employees lives at block E of Amoy Gardens and has become ill. Some government departments also closed due to employees being residents there and are found infected. An employee of the MTR was also among the infected, which even caused a sudden drop of the MTR stock prices.

SARS - click to send as e-cardAn unofficial visual survey at the MTR on Wednesday (2003.3.26) showed that about 10 or 15% of the people were wearing masks. On Thursday, it rose to 40 or 50%. Many stores were out of masks already, usually sold within a couple of hours of getting a new supply. Some store owners see it as their chance to make a few more bucks and jack up the prices. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs have also sprung up everywhere selling masks on street corners. It is not sure if their masks are up to par though.

The Rolling Stones posponed their concerts originally scheduled for March 29 and 30. But despite the seriousness of the situation, the Rugby Sevens opened as usual. However, if you are still travelling to Hong Kong, bring your own mask - preferably at least N95 rated!


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