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SARS costs H.K. tourism industry HK$3.8 billion in April, May.

HONG KONG, May 28 Kyodo

Hong Kong's tourism industry suffered HK$3.8 billion (about

$487.2 million) in losses for April and May in the wake of the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a senior economic official said Wednesday.

Health authorities separately reported Wednesday that one more elderly patient died from the highly contagious disease and two others were infected in the city, raising the death toll to 270 and the cumulative number of infection cases to 1,730.

To curb the transmission of SARS and prevent future outbreaks, the government proposed Wednesday tougher penalties for spitting and littering among a series of measures aimed at cleaning up Hong Kong, while an international expert group was named to review the city's healthcare system.

''I want to emphasize that there may be another epidemics coming this winter,'' Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told reporters. ''If it does happen, I want to be better prepared.''

The outbreak of SARS since March has hammered Hong Kong's weak economy, particularly its tourism industry.

Secretary for Economic Development and Labor Stephen Ip said the number of visitors to Hong Kong in April fell 65% on the year to just 490,000.

The average hotel occupancy rate in April was below 20%, compared to 81% and 79% in February and March, respectively, Ip told lawmakers at their weekly meeting.

''The government made an initial assessment in April of the economic impact of SARS and estimated that the direct loss to GDP (gross domestic product) per month as a result of drop in business in the hotel, airline and travel agent sectors is about HK$2 billion, which is about 1.8% of our monthly GDP,'' Ip said.

The economic loss in May is about HK$1.8 billion, or 1.7% of the territory's monthly GDP, he said.

The official, however, anticipated the number of visitors would climb with the resumption of tour packages from neighboring Guangdong Province in mainland China to Hong Kong next month, following the lifting of the World Health Organization's travel alert against Hong Kong and Guangdong last week.

Hong Kong's tourism sector has estimated some 100,000 people from Guangdong will visit the territory soon.

Ip said the government will launch major events and incentive programs to attract more tourists to the city.

Meanwhile, the government said that it will raise fines on spitting and littering to HK$1,500 from the present HK$600 for each offense, and that prosecution against offenders will be intensified.

The government will also step up cleaning of streets, housing blocks and other environmental blackspots, said Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, who is in charge of the campaign.

Inspections of sewage pipes in residential buildings will be launched, while new health guidelines will be issued to restaurants to enhance a higher standard of hygiene, Tsang added.

''I do believe after the episode of SARS, Hong Kong people are generally acutely aware of the danger of various unhealthy, unhygienic habits that are entrenched in the community. There is a good opportunity that we are going to make a breakaway from it,'' he said.

In another development, the government named a nine-member expert committee Wednesday to review the management and control of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, as well as the organization and operation of the city's health authorities in the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

The experts from the United States, Britain, Australia and Hong Kong are expected to come up with recommendations for improvement by September in order to help the territory better prepare for any future outbreaks.

Specialists from mainland China will also be invited to join the group, the government said.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Jun 2, 2003
Words:613
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