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H.K. regrets Malaysian visa restrictions because of SARS.

HONG KONG, April 10 Kyodo

The Hong Kong government expressed regret Thursday that Malaysia has imposed visa restrictions on the territory's residents over the scare of spreading the often fatal contagious pneumonia SARS.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip told reporters the Malaysian measure is unnecessary and the Hong Kong government has urged the Malaysian authorities to reconsider the decision.

''We regret deeply the decision of the Malaysian government, which had been taken without prior consultation. We do not think the decision is justified,'' the government said in a separate statement.

Hong Kong's Immigration Department received notification from Malaysia on Wednesday that all visas to Hong Kong residents and visas on arrival for all purposes would not be issued, temporarily, with effect from Tuesday in order to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Exemptions, however, will be given to Hong Kong government officials traveling to Malaysia for an official visit and to business people on a business trip or with investment in Malaysia, if they have a medical record proving they are SARS-free.

It is understood similar travel restrictions have also been imposed on China, Taiwan, Canada and Vietnam, the Hong Kong government said.

Before the measure, holders of Hong Kong passports were granted 30-day visa-free access to Malaysia.

The Hong Kong government said it has already taken a series of effective measures to contain the spread of the highly infectious SARS.

SARS, which is believed to have originated in China's Guangdong Province in mid-November and has been spreading mainly in Asia, has killed 27 people and infected 970 in Hong Kong, the second worst-hit area after China.

The World Health Organization has issued an unprecedented travel alert to international travelers, telling them to avoid visiting Hong Kong and Guangdong in the wake of the rapid spread of the virulent disease.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government cautioned that Malaysia's travel restrictions will ''severely impede'' trade, tourism and cultural exchanges between the two sides.

Last year, more than 340,000 Malaysians visited Hong Kong while nearly 200,000 Hong Kong residents traveled to Malaysia.

Bilateral trade amounted to HK$55 billion (US$7.05 billion).
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Apr 14, 2003
Previous Article:ASEAN finance ministers postpone meeting over SARS scare.
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