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SUNDAY MORNING

Six degrees

Annemarie Evans

 

Next month will mark 10 years since Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars (above), made Hong Kong the epicentre of a worldwide epidemic. Mainland doctor Liu Jianlun, 64, in Hong Kong for a wedding, died here after attending patients in Guangdong. A short time later, Shanghai businessman Johnny Chen – who stayed in the same Hong Kong hotel as Liu – was treated in a hospital in Hanoi by Italian doctor Carlo Urbani …

 

Urbani realised when he was treating Chen that this was not regular influenza but a highly contagious disease. He warned the World Health Organisation and advised Vietnamese health authorities to start screening patients and travellers. Urbani, a father of three, would also die, in Bangkok, after contracting Sars. His wife had begged him not to treat such at-risk patients but, according to The New York Times, he told her: “If I can’t work in such situations, what am I here for? Answering e-mails, going to cocktail parties and pushing paper?” For his work on infectious diseases, Urbani (on behalf of Medecins Sans Frontieres) collected the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, the eponymous honour scheme left in the will of Alfred Nobel …

 

Nobel was the loner, prone to fits of depression, who invented dynamite. He had three significant loves in his life but failed to let family or friends know he was leaving most of his wealth to inaugurate the prize. Nobel’s family firm also supplied arms in the Crimean war, where conditions were grim for injured soldiers, but were improved by a pioneering nurse, Florence Nightingale …

 

Nightingale was known as the lady of the lamp, although this could have been a bit of 19th-century media spin. There are those who believe her role in the Crimean war was grossly exaggerated, but Nightingale was genuinely horrified at the lack of hygiene, which was causing many soldiers to die not from wounds but from infections – a result of dirty conditions. She wrote to The Times to appeal for better facilities and a field hospital arrived, designed by British civil and mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel …

 

Brunel came second in a 2002 BBC poll to determine the “100 Greatest Britons” – second world war leader Winston Churchill won. Designer of the Great Western Railway and dockyards, Brunel also devised the first commercially viable propeller-driven steamship capable of a transatlantic crossing to New York in 1843, half a century before the doomed Titanic. The story of the sinking of the latter ship in 1912 was turned into a hugely successful movie, which launched to superstardom the actress Kate Winslet …

 

Winslet frustrated her agents, following Titanic’s success, by veering away from blockbusters towards independent productions. She was the youngest person to be nominated six times for an Academy Award before winning an Oscar in 2009 for The Reader. Winslet was present last month, as the face of Longines, at the Hong Kong International Races, alongside Ned Rocknroll, the nephew of Richard Branson she allegedly married last month in New York, with Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio walking her up the aisle. In 2011, she starred in the film Contagion, about a deadly pandemic that starts in Macau which was partly inspired by the 2003 Sars outbreak.

 

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