SARS to cut about 1 percentage point from East Asian growth

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The impact of the SARS epidemic would cut up to 1 percentage point off economic growth in East Asia this year, Australia's Treasury Department said in a report Friday. 

The effects, felt mainly in China and Hong Kong, would ripple through to the Australian economy shaving an estimated 0.13 percent of its gross domestic product, according to the Treasury report. 

"In economic terms SARS represents a crisis of confidence and a demand shock that hit East Asia, especially China, hard,'' the Treasury said in its Winter 2003 Economic Roundup report. 

SARS struck at a time when the global economy was already "subdued,'' the report added. 

Economic growth forecasts for Hong Kong in 2003 have been slashed from 3 percent before the outbreak to 1.5 percent afterward. 

Forecasts for China have been downgraded to as low as 6.5 percent from 7.5 percent before the epidemic. 

The good news is that barring further outbreaks, the disruption should be short lived with the worst of the economic impact occurring in the three months to the end of June. 

Last month, the World Health Organization declared that the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic had been contained. 

More than 8,400 people worldwide were infected and 800 killed by the contagious flu-like disease, mostly in China and Hong Kong. 

Australia suffered no deaths and just a handful of probable cases - all among overseas visitors. 

The economic impact on Australia would be mostly through the fall-off in tourism and travel from Asia, the report said. 

Andrew Hanlan, a senior economist at Westpac Banking Corp. said the Treasury's estimate 0.13 percent off GDP would translate into an economic loss of about 1 billion Australian dollars (US$650 million) based on the latest annual GDP figure of A$716 billion (US$465 billion). - AP

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