SARS: SCARE HITS MANILA'S CHINATOWN

Manila, April 30, 2003 As text messages about five possible cases of Severe Acute Respiratory 
Syndrome in Binondo started a SARS scare in Manila’s Chinatown yesterday, 
the normally bustling Ongpin street, Chinatown’s main thoroughfare, was 
almost deserted.

Binondo area businessmen complained of a significant drop in business, and 
held an emergency meeting late yesterday with Manila Mayor Joselito Atienza 
and other city officials.

Following their meeting, Atienza declared not only Chinatown "but the whole 
of Manila as SARS-free."

He said they will try to track down the source of the text messages about 
the spread of the SARS virus in Chinatown.

To counter the SARS scare, residents, together with the mayor, will hold a 
parade on Ongpin street at 9 a.m. today to show that the community is alive 
and well and SARS-free.

Barangay official Ramon Ang branded the text rumors, which have been 
circulating since Sunday, as "economic sabotage."

One of those rumored to have succumbed to the deadly disease was Taiwanese 
trader Pablo Yan, whose death was allegedly reported in a Chinese newspaper.

However, Yan’s business partner, Ed Miñez, belied the report, saying Yan is 
presently in Butuan supervising his logging businesses in Davao, Butuan and 
Bacolod cities.

"That wasn’t true. I just talked to him over the phone and he is very much 
alive," Miñez said. The STAR visited Miñez yesterday at the First Hotel on 
Ongpin street, where he was billeted, to confirm the rumors.

Miñez and other hotel guests also denied reports that a suspected SARS 
victim was staying at the establishment.

"We wouldn’t risk our lives here if we know that somebody with a deadly 
virus is here," Miñez stressed.

First Hotel owner Khenyon Tan said in a television interview that their 
business suffered because of the baseless reports.

"Look outside, it is almost a ghost town," Tan complained.

Eng Bee Tin Bakery owner Jerry Chua also decried as baseless text messages 
circulating around the community that one of his children has been infected 
with SARS. He said the only SARS they have is "siopao, asado, ramen and 
siomai," in candid reference to products carried by his popular food store.

Shopper’s Mart, one of the biggest supermarkets in the Binondo area located 
at Ongpin and Tomas Pinpin streets, was not threatened by the SARS scare.

"Nothing was unusual here," said the guard on duty at the store. "We opened 
at 9 a.m. and we will close at 10 p.m."

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Dr. Luisa Chua-Ho denied reports 
that she received a mother and child believed to have SARS. STAR sought the 
clarification after receiving reports that a Taiwanese woman and child went 
to see the doctor and was instructed to report to a hospital immediately.

As this developed, the Department of Health (DOH) urged doctors and 
hospital personnel not to make announcements about SARS cases as this only 
cause public confusion and panic.

Dr. Ma. Consortia Quizon, head of the DOH’s National Epidemiology Center 
(NEC), noted that only the DOH could declare suspected and confirmed cases.

"What the hospitals could do is refer to us the cases brought to their 
attention," she said.

Not counting the rumored SARS cases in Binondo, the DOH is now closely 
monitoring 12 possible SARS cases in various hospitals nationwide.

"Experts are now closely monitoring them. They are only SARS suspects. We 
want to be very careful in declaring who has SARS and who does not (have 
it)," Quizon said.

Profiles of the patients, however, were not immediately available.

Quizon said that from March 17 to April 27, a total of 60 people were 
admitted in various government hospitals for SARS-like symptoms. But as of 
Sunday, only 12 of them remained under quarantine in public hospitals.

A report from the NEC showed that eight of the SARS suspects remain in 
isolation at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in 
Alabang, two are in San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, one in Western Visayas 
and another one in Central Visayas.  (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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