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NAHA, Okinawa — There’s little chance you’ll be shanghaied to China from Okinawa these days.

At least not by air.

Because of the continuing spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome throughout Asia, China East Airlines canceled its twice-weekly flights between Okinawa and Shanghai. The cancellation will last from May 12 through June 30, the company announced Wednesday.

The Shanghai-based airline suspended the round-trip flights because seat occupancy dipped to just 13 percent in recent months in the wake of China’s SARS outbreak. Prior to the new disease’s spread, the Naha-Shanghai flights averaged 65 percent to 75 percent occupancy, an official at the company’s Naha branch office said.

It will be the first time the flights have been suspended since the route opened in August 2000.

The airline joins other airlines in the region that are cutting back on their traffic because of the SARS outbreak. Japan Airlines System Corp. announced it would cut international flights by 20 percent in May, mostly affecting its Asia routes. The company operates both Japan Airlines and Japan Air System.

The SARS outbreak is also being blamed for the recent drop in tourism on Okinawa. According to prefectural officials, 112 schools representing 17,013 students from throughout Japan scratched their spring trips to Okinawa. The total number of cancellations since the SARS outbreak has reached 22,045.

The officials said the cancellations were due both to a fear of SARS and the possibility of terrorist activities against U.S. military bases because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Meanwhile, the SARS outbreak is reaching into other aspects of life on Okinawa. A performance of the Beijing Opera at the Okinawa Convention Center, scheduled May 11 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ryukyu Shimpo, a daily newspaper, has been canceled. The opera company’s popular Eastern Dance Troupe was scheduled to perform.

Okinawa has designated six prefectural hospitals and the University of the Ryukyus Hospital to treat patients suspected of contracting SARS, said Seitoku Higa, deputy chief of the Health Promotion Office. The prefecture has scheduled a SARS awareness seminar for health providers Monday in Naha.

At that time a SARS manual will be distributed, detailing SARS treatment procedures, Higa said.

In a related matter, U.S. Marines from Okinawa were closely examined by health officials for any signs of infection when they arrived in the Philippines this week for the Balikatan 03 joint military exercise.


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