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Hong Kong holds its breath and hopes for health

For two months Hong Kong's 6.8 million residents have been at the centre of the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, better known across the border in mainland China as "strictly avoiding realistic statistics". But the crisis now seems driven more by fear and hysteria than actual risk of infection.

Yet with the sensationalist newspapers posting doomsday headlines and including Ebola and Aids in the same sentences as Sars, it's not surprising that so many in Hong Kong are terrified. The coverage makes it easy to forget that Sars, which knocked Iraq off the front pages of the local press two weeks before Saddam was deposed, has not yet claimed 99.98% of the city's population.

Hong Kong's nervous residents have split into four camps as they attempt to come to terms with the virus. The first group consists of the gung-ho expats who fail to wash their hands 16 times a day and refuse to wear the masks that have become this season's must-wear accessory for many locals.

The second group comprises the highly alarmed who read the scare headlines and stay behind locked doors surrounded by bulk buys of rice, disinfectant, vitamin tablets, masks and anything else believed to prevent infection.

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