HONG KONG: People here, still reeling from fear of atypical pneumonia, are trying to make sense of stringent measures announced by the Government on Thursday to combat the outbreak.
Morning radio talk show hosts were inundated with calls by listeners who wanted to know who would be quarantined and how the decision would be made.
Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa announced that those who had close contact with those inflicted with the disease would be quarantined for 10 days to prevent them from infecting others.
Those who failed to follow the order could face fines of up to HK$5,000 (RM2,460) or a six-month jail term under the rarely used Quarantine Regulation.
Although it is the epicentre of the global outbreak of the disease, the quarantine order comes days after Singapore and Toronto authorities did the same.
Tung estimated that 1,080 people required to undergo daily medical check-ups would also be required to stay at home. They would be banned from going to work or school.
According to press reports, those deemed to have had close contact would include family members of victims and medical staff treating them.
A Health, Welfare and Food Bureau spokesman said that anyone who sat within 1.5m of a victim at work might be deemed to have had close contact.
Those who lived under the same roof as victims would be included, but neighbours may not, the spokesman added.
A second category of people, estimated at 600, were those who had social contact with victims. This included neighbours and workmates. Health authorities would keep an eye on them and set up a hotline for them in case of emergency.
However, some criticised the governments action as coming too late.
The measures should have been introduced a lot earlier but it is better than nothing, said Kwok Ka Ki, spokesman for Action Group on Medical Policy.
Tim Pang Hung Cheong of Hong Kong Patients Rights Group, who also complained the action was too slow, pointed out that Singapore dealt with the outbreak quickly and was able to contain it.
Most experts agreed the infection was in the third wave as it had entered the community. The first wave was when patients infected health workers and the second when medical staff infected their families.
Many criticised the government for failing to prevent the spread in the community, claiming the government was afraid to tarnish the image of Hong Kong as a tourist destination.
Meanwhile, airlines and travel agents reported a double-digit drop in business.
South China Morning Post reported that Abacus, the company that provides the computer reservation system used by almost every travel agent in the region, reported a 30% to 35% drop in bookings from Hong Kong since March 19.
The drop was reported to be due to the outbreak and the invasion of Iraq.
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