April 9, 2003 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Hong Kong will take your breath away. With the burgeoning Sars epidemic spreading fear among travellers worldwide, the Hong Kong tourist board must be ruing the day it commissioned a series of magazine ads telling readers a visit to the city will "take your breath away".
posted by MintSauce (23 comments total)
Hong Kong will not take anyone's breath away in the sense of the SARS outbreak.

The fact is the media has been, by and large, hyping this problem. It is a serious concern in this city, and the government is trying to contain it. Eventually the situation will be brought under control.

Sure, the advertising campaign now seems poorly worded, but given the Hong Kong Tourist Association had no idea the outbreak was going to happen, it hardly qualifies as an embarrassment.

Simple precautions will protect people if they so choose to visit.
posted by bwg at 6:35 AM on April 9, 2003

can't believe everything or all of anything you read of course, but this is just one of many articles I have come across recently concerning the media hype around this disease and how there may not be anything unusual happening at all. Maybe we need to take a step back and look at the whole chess board.

posted by proof_nc at 6:45 AM on April 9, 2003

From proof_nc's link - This spreading scourge of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome stretching from Asia to North America has all the earmarks of a novel social experiment in population manipulation aimed to culture the mass mind for the arrival of "the Big One"-a biological agent that will facilitate decimation of approximately a third to half of the world's population, in keeping with current official population reduction objectives

can't believe everything or all of anything you read of course you can't.
posted by backOfYourMind at 7:19 AM on April 9, 2003

I'll second that, BOYM...
posted by bwg at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2003

backOfYourMind - ROTFL! I can't believe Time Cube hasn't picked up on this scam yet!
posted by tr33hggr at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2003

proof_nc: Not unusual, I agree, diseases mutate all the time. The media hype machine just like drama, because drama means ratings, sales, etc.

That article you linked to though? Um?
Who is behind this SARS madness? I accept the risk of triggering your "conspiracy theory" buttons by identifying the widely recognized "global military-medical-petrochemical-pharmaceutical cartel" as the only suspect that can wield the powers necessary to effect these frightening outcomes

Correct! Button pressed! Where is your extroidinary evidence to back up this truly extroidinary claim? Oh, I see, it's not there.

Media hype? Certainly. You need to look no further than the media itself for that, they *love* hyping scary stuff -- or were last year's summer-of-the-child-abduction and the previous year's summer-of-the-shark ALSO vast government conspiracies?
posted by malphigian at 7:26 AM on April 9, 2003

My fiance's sister live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This week her office has started wearing masks to work, maybe even while at work. She works at citibank.
posted by tomplus2 at 7:35 AM on April 9, 2003

Yes, most of the media hypes everything, so I fail to see why they'd handle SARS differently. More reasonable news sources are simply reporting the facts of the disease, that unneccessary travel to Guangdong or the Hong Kong SAR should be delayed and that if you travel to SE Asia, you should see a doctor if you start experiencing symptoms.

That being said, the Take Your Breath Away campaign might not be all bad... while it's certainly not going to be generating instant response, the campaign will likely get significantly expanded coverage due to the dark humor of the unlucky timing. Hopefully in the long-term the little bit of additional publicity this story generates will help offset the current drought in the tourism industry.
posted by mosch at 8:00 AM on April 9, 2003

I was in Hong Kong in late January and I was supposed to be there again this week. Some of the people I was supposed to meet in HK are taking vacation time in order to leave the city. My client's office has been dismantled because of one SARS infected co-worker (which makes sense as 40+ people had been sharing about 50sq.m (~450sq.ft.) of office space). As much as I want to chalk up the panic to media hype, the people in HK are definitely scared.

Now, wrt to HK as a tourist destination: great if you are in the region anyway and have 4-5 days to spend. It's a sight to behold, the antithesis of North American megalopoles. However, the biggest draw of HK to people in the region --shopping, shopping, and well, shopping-- won't be that big a deal to westerners, unless you are looking for very cheap clothes, or well, err... DVDs.
posted by costas at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2003

Toronto's been getting a lot of press re: SARS, and, living in the city (and working a block and a half from one of the larger hospitals), overblown is an understatement. People in masks grace the covers of most of our major newspapers (when the war isn't), yet I see maybe one person per day with one.

Last night I went to see the band The Notwist. Got to the venue. Doors were locked. Spoke with a ticket agent... cancelled because the band feared SARS. Ugh.
posted by dobbs at 8:10 AM on April 9, 2003

Definitely media hype, but the facts stand:

1. Highly contagious... bad in HK due to crowded living conditions and not always high level of cleanliness

2. 4% mortality rate... uncomfortably high for a disease that we don't really know how to treat (pot shots at antibiotics are not a recipe for success in asia, and are a foolish treatment for a viral infection)

3. The people that should know best how to take precautions, health care workers, doctors, head of HK govt. health dept, are the ones getting hit hardest

4. Gov't response in HK is to put people in camps

5. Too close to home: we had a case in my building and my biggest client has multiple confirms with one whole floor of their very expensive building shut down

6. Yes, yes, probably we can get this under control, etc. etc. But if we don't? If it gets even a tiny bit more contagious? If it spreads faster on the island and not just kowloon... the gov't had flubbed this one so badly already, i don't have ANY confidence in them keeping it under control.
posted by i blame your mother at 8:15 AM on April 9, 2003

oooo .... some interesting links and eye-witness reports from an initially humorous post.

I of course claim full responsibility. Cheers :)
posted by MintSauce at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2003

The 4% mortality rate is relative.

- Flu and other forms of pneumonia kill more people each year than have so far died in Hong Kong.

- Most of the deaths have been elderly people already suffering poor health. SARS unfortunately sickened them beyond recovery.

- The virus has shown varying levels of virulence.

I don't worry much about living in Hong Kong at the moment. I do take precautions but I'm certainly not cowering in fear.

I'm more worried about the next outbreak of lethal influenza. Then people are going to drop like flies.
posted by bwg at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2003

Rather than a public health emergency, the "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome," generally called SARS, is best diagnosed as a "Sickening and Repulsive Scam." This article argues that this unprecedented viral attack is, alternatively, an ingenious social experiment featuring institutionalized bioterrorism for widespread psycho-social control. The outcome of this experiment, whether it leads to population reduction or not, depends on you.

This is the abstract from the paper linked above that a number of people seemed to take as a good indicator that SARS isn't all that serious. Well either writing standards in the medical community aren't what they are in the rest of academia or we should perhaps be waiting for someone to come along with a bit less conspiracy theorising on his CV. Yes the media hype stuff, but that doesn't mean bad stuff doesn't happen. Garbage like this link say nothing that is of any use for a more informed picture and are nothing to base an argument on.
posted by biffa at 8:28 AM on April 9, 2003

Actually, it seems that the CBC and Globe and Mail, at least, have been pulling back on their SARS coverage since last week. This morning's Globe had one 1/2 page story well inside the paper on it. Whether it's because the infections seem to be slowing down or as a response to criticism of overcoverage, it seems to be the case.
posted by transient at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2003

The media in Hong Kong seem to have been doing a good job of keeping the hype down and instead trying to educate people about how to avoid catching SARS.
posted by bwg at 9:14 AM on April 9, 2003

Metafilter: The virus that shows varying levels of virulence!
posted by armoured-ant at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2003

I have a cousin marrying a Chinese man next month. Roughly 40 of his family members are flying over from China for it. Two of the bride's aunts are probably going to refuse to attend because they're worried they'll get SARS.
posted by gsteff at 10:24 AM on April 9, 2003

Hype or not, this disease is having a huge effect on the tourism industry here in Australia. Hotels are already forcing staff to take holidays and are considering lay-offs unless the situation improves drastically. I can only imagine what the effect has been on Hong Kong and Singapore, which are portrayed here as the major centres of this disease.

Actually, Hong Kong does take your breath away and always has - just not in a nice way. Still, it is the only place that I have visited in Asia on business that I would be interested in returning to for a holiday.
posted by dg at 3:00 PM on April 9, 2003

dg, Hong Kong is taking an ass-kicking right now. Incoming flights are way down and outgoing flights as well. Hotels and restaurants are suffering.

Landlords are working on a temporary reduction in rents to help businesses stay afloat. That's unheard of here.
posted by bwg at 8:19 PM on April 9, 2003

The SARS episode will be best remembered in public-policy and PR classrooms of the future as a case study in how a little information can be a dangerous thing.

It has polarised opinion in Hong Kong, where mask-wearers and non-wearers are now segregated into tribes, the more militant members of which are vocally vilifying the actions (or inactions) of the other.

It has re-ignited deep-rooted bigotries in many countries, liberal or otherwise, reminiscent of how AIDS was perceived in the early days as a "gay" or "black" disease. (Not that I'm equating SARS to AIDS.)

The Guardian article linked to in the original post is an excellent example of how the media can create disparaging inferences and manipulate perception based on very little substance.

While the potential threat of SARS to public health remains still unknown, real and tangible damage is already being done in many quarters - to the Hong Kong economy, to the travel and hospitality industries, to the common sense of ordinary people the world over.
posted by plenty at 2:31 AM on April 10, 2003

Lisa Marie Presley has cancelled her trip to Toronto. Thank you, SARS!

Of course, it's probably the surgical masks she really fears. And who can blame her..
posted by orange swan at 9:39 AM on April 10, 2003

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