Spread of SARS a month after the Metropole Hotel incident.A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in both lungs, indicative of pneumonia, in a patient with SARS."8 Steps Towards SARS Prevention", public information poster issued by the Chinese government in 2003.
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Severe acute respiratory syndrome

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known by its acronym SARS, is an atypical form of pneumonia. It first appeared in November 2002 in Guangdong Province of the People's Republic of China. SARS is now known to be caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), a novel coronavirus. SARS has a mortality rate of around 10 percent. more...

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After the People's Republic of China suppressed news of the outbreak both internally and abroad, the disease spread rapidly, reaching neighbouring Hong Kong and Vietnam in late February 2003, and then to other countries via international travellers. The last case in this outbreak occurred in June 2003. There were a total of 8437 cases of disease, with 813 deaths.

In May 2005, the New York Times reported that "not a single case of severe acute respiratory syndrome has been reported this year or in late 2004. It is the first winter without a case since the initial outbreak in late 2002. In addition, the epidemic strain of SARS that caused at least 813 deaths worldwide by June of 2003 has not been seen outside a laboratory since then."

For a timeline of the SARS outbreak, see Progress of the SARS outbreak.

Outbreak in the People's Republic of China

The virus appears to have originated in Guangdong province in November 2002, and despite taking some action to control the epidemic, the People's Republic of China did not inform the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the outbreak until February 2003, restricting coverage of the epidemic in order to preserve face and public confidence. This lack of openness caused the PRC to take the blame for delaying the international effort against the epidemic. The PRC has since officially apologized for early slowness in dealing with the SARS epidemic.

In early April, there appeared to be a change in official policy when SARS began to receive a much greater prominence in the official media. However, it was also in early April that accusations emerged regarding the undercounting of cases in Beijing military hospitals. After intense pressure, PRC officials allowed international officials to investigate the situation there. This has revealed problems plaguing the aging mainland Chinese healthcare system, including increasing decentralization, red tape, and inadequate communication.

In late April, revelations occurred as the PRC government admitted to underreporting the number of cases due to the problems inherent in the healthcare system. Dr. Jiang Yanyong exposed the coverup that was occurring in China, at great personal risk. He reported that there were more SARS patients in his hospital alone than were being reported in all of China. A number of PRC officials were fired from their posts, including the health minister and mayor of Beijing, and systems were set up to improve reporting and control in the SARS crisis. Since then, the PRC has taken a much more active and transparent role in combatting the SARS epidemic.

Spread to other countries

The epidemic reached public spotlight in February 2003, when an American businessman travelling from China came down with pneumonia-like symptoms while on a flight to Singapore. The plane had to stop at Hanoi, Vietnam, where the victim died in a hospital. Several of the doctors and nurses who had attempted to treat him soon came down with the same disease despite basic hospital procedures. Several of them died. The virulence of the symptoms and the infection of hospital staff alarmed global health authorities fearful of another emergent pneumonia epidemic. On March 12, 2003, the WHO issued a global alert, followed by a health alert by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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SARS: epidemic of humble proportions - Special Report: Networking in the New Millennium - severe acute respiratory syndrome
From DSN Retailing Today, 6/23/03 by Emily Scardino

SARS might as well be an acronym for Serious Apparel Retail Scare.

In the last few months, this contagion has had an undeniable impact on sourcing procedures and stymied efforts to travel freely in certain high-traffic zones of Far East Asia. However, the SARS fear factor, according to most sources close to DSN Retailing Today, is based more on hyperbole than fact--and most are saying it's business as usual in the international apparel trade.

"SARS has prompted us to take a lot of precautions with our people to make sure that they are O.K., but there has been no slowdown in production," said Steve Potter, buyer for Payless ShoeSource.

The drama that has accompanied this highly contagious, flu-like disease has raised the guard of international travelers everywhere. But the truth is that SARS is a much milder disease than first thought. Of the 388 suspected and probable cases reported to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) as of June 10, 2003, there have been no domestic fatalities. The death rate in Toronto, where there was a large outbreak due to its high Asian population, was low. No stringent travel restrictions are in place.

"Persons are requested to monitor their health upon arriving from a possibly SARS-infected area for 10 days. If a person does not have symptoms of SARS, it is not necessary for them to be quarantined," a health communications specialist at the CDC told DSN Retailing Today.

All the same, the fear of SARS is not unfounded. It has had a fairly high mortality rate in Asia, where virtually every U.S. corporation tied to mass retailing, from Levi Strauss to Target, now sources its wares. This has prompted many US retailers with a strong presence in Hong Kong and Toronto to curtail travel. For instance, at WalMart's annual shareholder meeting, which normally rallies its divisions from across the globe, groups of associates from its Chinese and Canadian operations were conspicuously absent.

Numerous manufacturers, who spoke to DSN Retailing Today on this subject on the condition of anonymity, said they were reluctant to make trips to the Far East to check production status, or that their staff was wary of doing so. Insurance plans, complex enough on American shores, are pushed to their limits overseas. A problem which is believed to have led to the untimely death from another medical problem of a Kenneth Cole footwear designer, a story recently publicized in New York Magazine.

Factory workers are also being affected. "There are reports that workers are scared and not showing up for work" noted Henry Stupp, vp, NTD Apparel. The scare has also affected just about every business in between, all of which have led to varying degrees of supply chain disruptions.

"Many airlines are canceling Southeast Asia to West Coast U.S. flights. This limits the availability of cargo capacity for companies shipping high-value goods in the bellies of these planes," noted Dr. John Mentzer, professor of marketing, logistics and transportation at the University of Tennessee's College of Business Administration in Knoxville, Tenn.

How quickly SARS will blow over is anyone's guess. However, most agree that its effect on the U.S. retail market is more bark than bite. As Limited Too's James T. Shimizu, vp of marketing, promotions and events, put it: "In terms of deliveries, we haven't seen any major issues."

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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