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Cell phone firm offers SARS alerts

A mobile phone operator in Hong Kong has launched a location-based service that will alert people who are near buildings where the deadly SARS virus has struck.

    A mobile phone operator in Hong Kong has launched a location-based service that will alert people who are near buildings where the deadly SARS virus has struck.

    Those opting for the service will have their phones tracked and will be told via short message service (SMS) which buildings within a kilometer of their location have had SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) cases occur, as declared by the Hong Kong Department of Health.

    "With the dial of a few digits, subscribers can quickly get the peace of mind they need to go about their everyday lives," said Bruce Hicks, group managing director of Sunday Communications, the company offering the service.

    People dial a number to access information posted by the Department of Health. They can then choose to subscribe to the SARS location alerts and also get locations of places SARS patients are suspected to have visited.

    There is no charge for each SMS request, but normal airtime charges still apply, according to Sunday.

    Sunday will also donate mobile services to SARS patients. The company is one of six mobile operators fighting for a slice of the cellular pie in a competitive market with one the highest mobile penetration rates in the world.

    Hong Kong residents have been jittery about the infection since the SARS outbreak began this winter.

    Nearly 1,300 SARS infections, including 65 deaths, have been reported in Hong Kong, according to the World Health Organization's Web site. Worldwide, nearly 3,400 cases have been reported, with 165 deaths so far.

    CNETAsia's John Lui reported from Singapore.