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Quake pandas draw crowds in Beijing Zoo

THOUSANDS of Beijingers joined domestic and international tourists to catch a glimpse of six newly arrived pandas from the quake-ravaged Sichuan Province at Beijing Zoo during the May Day holiday.

Fears about A-H1N1 flu, also commonly known as swine flu, seemed far away as the crowd cheered and hustled to take photos and videos when the cuddly bears frolicked and tucked into bamboo leaves in their enclosure.

Beijing's 11 major parks, including the Summer Palace, Beihai Park and Zhongshan Park, received half a million visitors on Friday, the first day of China's three-day Labor Day holiday.

It's not that the Chinese are indifferent to the epidemic. On the contrary, memories of the SARS scare exactly six years ago are still on most Chinese minds.

"No, not again," said Beijing resident Li Jing, who bought at least 200 masks at a pharmacy just 2 kilometers from the hustles and bustles of the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing.

Li said she was mainly doing a favor for her colleagues, but would certainly keep a quarter of the masks for her family. "That no swine flu case has been reported (on Chinese mainland) doesn't mean we are altogether safe. Even epidemic travels faster these days with globalization."

Many Beijingers have put masks, thermometers and antivirus medicine on their shopping list since A-H1N1 flu cases were first reported in Mexico last week.

A pharmacy in the Muslim community of southern Beijing ran out of masks three days ago. "Everyone bought at least 10," said a saleswoman. Beijing's supermarkets also reported a sharp increase in the sale of disinfectant and vinegar, which can be used to make disinfectant.

Nearly all hospitals have set aside separate consulting rooms for feverish patients to avoid potential cross-infection.

"All our doctors and nurses have been told to keep their cell phones on 24 hours a day," said Chen Guihua, president of Zhongshan No. 3 Hospital, one of the three hospitals treating epidemics in Guangdong Province.

And it seems the threat of the virus has not affected Beijingers' appetites. The capital's two leading chain restaurants, Donglaishun Hotpot and Quanjude Roast Duck, reported daily turnover increases of 50 and 37.5 percent on Friday.


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