Environment & Health HKFP History

In Pictures: Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS epidemic

14 years ago on February 21, 2003, a mainland Chinese doctor checked into a room on the ninth floor of Kowloon’s Metropole Hotel. He had already developed symptoms of pneumonia, but did not seek treatment until the next day at a nearby hospital.

He passed away two weeks later.

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April 16, 2003 – a man sitting on an empty MTR train. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Other residents on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel soon developed similar symptoms of what was later identified as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

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A passenger sleeps wearing a mask to protect against SARS on an almost empty Dragonair flight from Hong Kong to Beijing, May 21, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

The outbreak in Hong Kong eventually infected 1,755 people.

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The Hong Kong flag is draped over the coffin of Lau Wing-kai, a Hong Kong nurse who died of SARS in April 2003 at the funeral service at Gallant Garden, a graveyard reserved for those who die serving the community May 7, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

The figure included some 360 hospital workers, who were initially unaware as to the cause of the disease and took relatively few precautions.

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A man walks past a news headline on a newstand wearing mask to protect against SARS on a street in Hong Kong, May 6, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

As the causes of the syndrome came to light, however, Hongkongers began wearing surgical masks and washing their hands frequently.

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Police motorcyclists wear masks as they wait to escort to hospital the crew members of the Malaysian cargo ship Bunga Belawis Satu after they are feared to have contracted the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, May 4, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Many began avoiding public areas, leaving public transport and city streets deserted.

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Heinz Feldmann (R), a doctor from the World Health Organisation (WHO), talks to reporters (L) at Amoy Gardens housing estate in Hong Kong where the killer outbreak of pneumonia known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) wreaked havoc, April 30, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Primary and secondary schools were shut for a month beginning in late March.

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A woman dons a masks in Hong Kong to protect against a killer outbreak of pneumonia known as SARS, April 27, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Major epicentres of the outbreak included the Prince of Wales Hospital, where almost a hundred medical workers contracted SARS, and Block E of the Amoy Gardens housing estate in Kowloon Bay, which was quarantined.

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April 24, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

On March 31, over 200 residents of the Amoy Gardens block were evacuated to holiday camps in Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun.

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Chinese medicine practitioners prepare products in Hong Kong wearing masks to protect against SARS. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

In April, the number of new SARS cases slowed. On May 24, no new cases were reported for the first time.

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April 20, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

299 people died in Hong Kong in the Spring of 2003, including eight healthcare workers, representing a fatality rate of 17 per cent.

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Fans wearing face masks to protect against the pneumonia virus SARS line up to watch the funeral service for Hong Kong actor and singer Leslie Cheung in Hong Kong, April 8, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

The virus also claimed 349 lives in mainland China, and 775 worldwide.

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April 3, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

SARS was traced to an outbreak in neighbouring Guangdong province in November 2002.

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Hong Kong police patrol through Amoy Gardens housing estate in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong where residents have were evacuated to a holiday camp to isolate them in April 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Criticism was levelled at the Chinese government for having initially covered up the outbreak.

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April 1, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

The press had initially been discouraged from reporting about the mysterious virus, and the country initially reported dozens – instead of thousands – of cases to the World Health Organisation.

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March 31, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

At the time, the SARS epidemic was considered the darkest period in Hong Kong’s history since its handover to China in 1997.

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A resident with his belongings leaves Amoy Gardens housing estate in Kowloon Bay, where 213 people contracted SARS, March 31, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

It coincided with the suicide of Cantopop singer Leslie Cheung, mismanagement of housing policies and continued economic difficulties following the Asian Financial Crisis, which led to a wave of public discontent.

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A Dutch fan at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, March 29, 2003. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP.

Merely a week after the territory was removed from the World Health Organisation’s list of “infected areas”, 500,000 demonstrators marched against the proposed enactment of a controversial national security law on July 1, 2003. The proposal was soon retracted.

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A man waits at a tram stop in front of a billboard showing medical workers wearing face masks to prevent the SARS disease in the Central district of Hong Kong, May 7, 2004. Photo: Samantha Sin/AFP.

Tung Chee-hwa, chief executive at the time, stepped down a year later.

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In Pictures: Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS epidemic