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Asia, Europe mobilize against spread of swine flu

Governments adopted measures last used during the SARS crisis of 2003.

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The Associated Press reports that Hong Kong, which was hard-hit by SARS, has assembled a team to develop a test for the new virus.

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Thomas Tsang, controller for territory's Center for Health Protection, said the government and universities aim to develop a quick test for the new flu strain in a week or two that will return results in four to six hours, compared to existing tests that can take two or three days.

Japanese scientists also scrambled into action, according to a report from the Bangkok Post.

Japan said it would fast-track efforts to find a vaccine, while one company pulled back the families of staff based in Mexico, travel agencies scrapped package tours and drug stores reported a brisk trade in face masks.

In Taiwan, which was also hit hard by SARS, the health minister urged the island's public to stay calm, Agence France-Presse reports.

"There is no need to panic over the outbreak at the moment. The present situation is like a tropical storm emerging on the other side of the Pacific which poses no immediate threat to people here," Health Minister Yeh Chin-chuan said, according to the report.

Meanwhile, swine flu worries rattled Asian and Europe markets, hitting airline stocks especially hard.

Bloomberg reports that British Airways stock was down as much as 17 percent Monday, with Air France down as much as 10 percent, on fears swine flu could lead to a cutback in air travel.

In Asia, Air China was down 13 percent, Singapore Airlines about 5 percent, and Australia's Qantas Airways off 4 percent.

Reuters reports that broader markets were down or flat in Asia and Europe Monday, with analysts gloomy about the effect of swine flu fears.

"A nasty chill will run through the market with swine flu as people think back to the SARS virus," said Justin Urquhart Stewart, investment director at Seven Investment Management.
"The threat of the pandemic will add further weakness to global trade – we saw with SARS tangible percentage points knocked off the index and that was in a buoyant time. Put that in a weaker time and it is likely to be more unpleasant."


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