Devastating Epidemic In Hong Kong

Pedestrians walk in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay district wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, Thursday, April 10, 2003. SARS has sickened at least 970 people here and killed 27. AP

SARS, the pneumonia-like disease has spread to at least 20 countries -- including the U.S. and Canada.

At least 150 people have died worldwide, and more than 3,000 others are infected.

And just when Hong Kong officials thought SARS couldn't get worse -- it has, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen. There were a record nine deaths reported in the city in just the past day alone.

While initial victims were elderly, the latest SARS deaths now include people as young as their early 30s. Researchers suspect the virus has mutated into a more deadly form.

To contain the spread, departing passengers will soon have their temperatures taken at the airport. Those with SARS symptoms will be going nowhere.

That's more bad news for airlines flying their big jets with as few as three passengers. The main airline -- Cathy Pacific -- may ground its entire fleet if it gets much worse.

But even healthy people here now have a SARS stigma.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are banning everyone from SARS infected regions. The Philippines is asking them voluntarily to just stay away.

Meanwhile, tourists and business people staying away from Hong Kong are creating a litany of economic woe.

Hotels are more than 90 percent empty. 5,000 restaurants are facing bankruptcy. And 10,000 Mom-and-Pop stores are at risk.

Even the good luck dragon couldn't bring luck -- or customers -- to a major international trade fair in the Chinese province near Hong Kong. Americans, especially, were not to be seen.

SARS has become so frightening in Hong Kong that even civil liberties may suffer. One human rights advocate is now suggesting that families of SARS patients be rounded up, and sent to quarantine camps in the hills surrounding the city.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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