Does SARS make it too dangerous to visit Hong Kong?

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Hello Batgung,

We are a family of 5 from California who have arranged a home exchange with a family that lives in the Stanley Market area. They are expats who lived very close to us in CA (their children consider CA home). My sons & I will be in HKG from 6/20 - 8/1 and my husband joins us 7/16, when we will also visit Thailand. I have read everything I can about SARS and checked the various US & HKG Health Authorities web sites very often. In my gut, I really feel we are taking a miniscule risk by visiting HKG and our exchange family have stressed that they feel it is safe for us to visit. Is it true there have been no SARS incidents on the island?

On the other hand, we have a good male friend who is planning to take the trip with us. He has an acquaintance in HKG who is adamant that it is not safe, that the city is not the same (fun?) that it normally is, and that there is a lot of cover-up going on, particularly with regards to relapses.

This is the chance of a lifetime for us as a family to get to visit for 6 weeks and we have all been sooooo excited. We purchased our tickets quite a while ago and got all of our vaccines up to date. Perhaps I'm in denial about the danger, but it seems completely blown out of proportion to me (West Vile virus killed 250 in US last year). Our potential shopping trip to Shenzen is iffy at this point, but I have to believe HKG is safe.

I'm sorry to rattle on for so long, but I would just like some input from a different perspective. The US media does have a tendency to inflate the news a bit!

Thanking you in advance for your advice!

A Concerned Traveler

Is Hong Kong safe?

Hello Traveler;

Thanks very much indeed for your letter, and for visiting Batgung.

I'm going to try to give you a coherent reply, but allow me to preface it with a disclaimer: Mr Balding and I are not in the advice business, and we can't make this decision for you -- you've got to come to your own conclusions about relative risk. I know that you know all this, too, but these days it must be said outright.

Okay, with that out of the way, I can tell you my own recent thinking. As you know from the article, Mrs Tall, Baby Tall and I went back to visit the States last month. We had no hesitations about returning to our daily lives here. Obviously, we live here, but at no point have we considered the risk sufficient to even think about 'getting out of here', as some expats in HK and elsewhere in Asia have. Long story short, I think they were grossly overreacting. As you know from your web browsing, the risk of actually catching SARS is vanishingly small, even in places such as HK.

You also asked if the mood of the city was bad. A month ago, yes, definitely. HK was a depressed and un-fun place. The last couple of weeks have seen a real turnaround, however. This weekend we noticed that restaurants had lines outside them, the shopping mall we visited was teeming, and the wearing/not wearing ratio for surgical masks had dropped to about 50/50 in most public places. HK is getting to be fun again.

Finally, you're looking to be here a month from now, by which time we are all hoping the WHO advisory against travel to HK will be lifted and life will be more or less back to normal.

So there you go, and good luck making your decision.

Mr Tall