Nasty Bug: Chinatown Neighborhoods Hurt By Rumors

For those unable to leave the country, there are plenty of mission opportunities to share the 'good news' right here in Ohio.
by Cynthia K. Berry

The United States has a new communicable disease on the books for the first time in 20 years. An executive order signed by President Bush makes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) one of just eight diseases subject to quarantine in case of a widespread outbreak in this country. Worldwide, the SARS death toll hit approximately 800 in May, last week, even as scientists tentatively identified the culprit as a new strain of coronavirus, the bug behind the common cold. Like a cold, SARS has no known cure, but it's much worse, killing over 5 percent of its victims.

That mortality rate has residents of several Asian nations in a near panic. Singapore has ordered 14-day quarantines for those with flu-like symptoms, and the tiny police state may use Internet cameras to make sure victims don't leave their houses. Vietnam is considering closing its borders to visitors from SARS-afflicted countries as it grapples with indigenous cases. And in Hong Kong, where dozens have already been killed by SARS, a prominent microbiologist said 80 percent of the population could be infected within two years.

Economists now worry that the disease could knock a full percentage point off the growth rate in Southeast Asia, causing a ripple effect throughout world markets. One such ripple has already reached American shores: Chinatown neighborhoods from Boston to San Francisco have seen business drop by up to 70 percent amid rumors that SARS is spreading there. Shop owners are distributing educational leaflets to quell the rumors, but surgical masks are still selling out in drugstores.

Reprinted with permission, WORLD magazine Copyright 2003 For information, visit

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