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Striking Hand
23rd May 2003, 00:27
SARS hysteria has Japanese running
around like mad cow in China shop

By Ryann Connell
Staff Writer

May 21, 2003

Though Japan has so far largely been spared by the SARS pandemic that has wreaked havoc throughout most of Asia in recent months, hysteria levels have still become a right pain in the SARS, according to Spa! (5/27).

Like many companies, a trading company ordered one of its employees to quarantine himself after a business trip to the Asian mainland. But the order only went out two weeks after he returned from China. It didn't stop there.

"He'd been to Beijing and Shanghai, among the worst-hit places. He had a pile of letters and documents he'd bought back from China and had left in his desk. The general affairs division ordered the papers be wrapped up in sandwich wrap," an employee tells Spa!, adding that a couple of girls who'd normally serve tea were instructed to carry out the cleaning job after everybody else refused. "They were wearing rubber gloves and surgical masks and wiped down his desk completely using alcohol-soaked wet tissues."

One medium-sized advertising company banned its employees from eating Chinese food for fear the deadly SARS virus could be transmitted.

"We received this circular saying that we were banned from eating Chinese food because nobody knew how the ingredients arrived in the country and they could contain the SARS virus," a 33-year-old employee of the company tells Spa! "I thought it was ridiculous. One of the young girls went over to our boss and asked if the ban meant she couldn't eat the Chinese meal she'd bought at a convenience store."

Those in the tourist industry have taken a particularly hard line bordering on racism in their efforts to make sure they're not SARS-pect.

"Last week, our agent brought in all the passports we'd handed over to get visas for people to visit China, but nobody wanted anything to do with them. It's understandable considering they'd been in the Chinese Embassy for a week. China's famous for not telling the truth, so who's to know if an embassy official had contracted SARS?" a travel agency employee tells Spa! "In the end, we got the agent to leave the passports on top of a desk, where we sprayed them with disinfectant and put them in plastic bags before sending them back to their owners."

It's a similar situation for hotels, especially those that attract large numbers of foreign guests.

"We're keeping all our Chinese guests on the one floor," a Tokyo hotel employee tells Spa!

A hotel cleaner adds extra precautions have also become the norm.

"Even in ordinary rooms we're wearing masks and gloves, but on the special floor (where Chinese guests are kept), we make sure we wear heavy duty surgical masks. We also spend half as much time again cleaning the rooms," the cleaner tells Spa! "Any used toothbrushes, soap or whatever we find in these rooms we put in a sealed plastic bag. We're getting these rooms as clean as hospital rooms."