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As SARS Limits Going out, Chinese Go to Cyberspace
Wu Hong, an architect in Beijing who had long dreamed of working at home instead of in a crowded public office, has finally seen her dream come true due to the outbreak of the SARS epidemic.

In order to better surf online and get sufficient information for her work, she joined a long line of people waiting outside a telecommunications building, all, like Wu, eager to apply for broadband Internet service.

Many Chinese people such as Wu are now enjoying the "online life" with an unprecedented enthusiasm, and this has been seen as a good way to remedy the loss severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has caused to people's normal life.

Li Li, a Beijing accountant who was deeply terrified days ago because of catching a cold, has now become a frequent guest in the online forums of many large websites in China.

Li not only reads a lot of news about SARS online every day, but also provides consultations on SARS prevention to other netizens.

"I have almost become an online SARS doctor," Li joked.

On the pages of all Chinese web sites, large or small, masses of messages have been posted with information on SARS control, ranging from disinfection methods to folk remedies.

All websites have kept up-to-date on the national statistics of SARS cases and publicized the government's policies and measures as quick as possible.

Zhang Li, an employee of a foreign trade company, has been placing orders online with her Japanese clients. Seeing the steady increase in her company's trade volume, she has solid confidence in the great potential of e-business.

During the 93rd China Export Commodity Fair held this spring in Guangzhou, about 10 percent of the total business was conducted online, resulting in the export of goods worth US$310 million.

At an international forum themed "SARS and Asia's Economy: Impacts and Policy Recommendations" on May 13, many senior experts, including Homi Kharas, chief economist of East Asia for the World Bank, presented reports through an online visual device.

According to Tang Min, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank in China, SARS will help create more opportunities for online business.

Shopping online, which has long been advertised but seen slow progress in China, is now being conducted by a fast growing numberof people.

Zhang Jinsheng, a Beijinger who could not meet his friend during the SARS peak, bought her a bundle of roses online during this May Day holiday.

"It is not only very quick but also very secure," he said.

Since the outbreak of SARS, the average number of people visiting the "net shopping mall" each day at www.sina.com.cn. has surged by 20 percent, according to sources.

The daily online business transaction at www.gome.com.cn, the website of Guomei, a well-known household appliances seller in China, has maintained an average of between 250,000 and 300,000 yuan, compared to 150,000 yuan (about US$18,000) before the SARS outbreak.

In addition, more Chinese people have come to use online banking services, which not only provide a quick settlement but cut off a route of SARS infection.

According to statistics, over 70 percent of taxpayers in Beijing, twice the figure as usual, have applied to pay online since the SARS outbreak in the city.

Chatting online has also been a popular choice for many Chinese people to spend this period of time.

According to a survey conducted by Microsoft, more than 1.3 million Chinese chatting online are using Microsoft software products in the recent period.

During the May Day holiday, the number of people simultaneously in the chat rooms of www.sina.com.cn hit a record high of 54,000.

Wu Dan, a student from Qinghua University who had registered for a TOEFL test, has kept visiting a special "online classroom" to learn the relative instructions for the test.

Though having to stay at home, many high school and elementary students in Beijing are continuing their study with the help of the Internet, on which they can get all-round and detailed instructions offered by a variety of long-distance education services.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2003)

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