The home page of Sina.com, one of China's top Internet portals, carries breaking news on the number of Sars cases across the country, quarantine measures being taken and government announcements on the outbreak. But in the middle of the page are three jokes - about sex and relationships - chosen to alleviate the stress of Sars. As with any major news story nowadays, China's Internet portals and mobile phone text messages were the first to inform the wired population about Sars and the efforts being taken to control it. With people staying indoors to avoid Sars, the Internet and text messages have become even more crucial to maintaining contact with the outside. Since the top of the Beijing panic curve late last month, when most text messages and e-mails spread news and asked 'Are you okay?', much of Beijing's wired and wireless communication has been for research, fun or humour. Surfing for Sars data is popular among China's 59.1 million Internet users, say those in the search-engine business. Baidu, a Chinese-language search engine based in Beijing, saw an overall 9 per cent increase daily, said spokesman Bi Sheng. Sohu.com, a search engine and Web portal, reported this month that Sars was its most popular search string, generating 30,000 entries a day. SinoLinx, the news side of the Xianzai.com Web information service for foreigners in China, also puts Sars at number one. On May 3, the most popular SinoLinx search strings were 'Sars China', 'Chinese map' and 'Sars in China'. Further down the list were 'China Sars', 'Hong Kong Sars' and 'Sars map of China'. 'I'm going to have to change the name to SARSLinx soon,' joked Xianzai chief operating officer Danny Levinson. Zhanshen, a Web-based war game, had seen a 20 per cent increase in business, including selling out of game cards, because Beijing people had given up taking part in outdoor activities during Sars, said Kay Zhang, Net liaison officer with Moxze, the Beijing-based company that makes the game. Prepaid home Internet access cards also sold out on occasion in the panic heyday late last month. 'As lots of people are staying at home these days, Web sites have a comparably high click rate,' Ms Zhang said. 'But in general, most businesses are in a losing-revenue situation.' The Ministry of Information Industry has not released April or May mobile phone use statistics, but anecdotes indicate that China's 430 million users used their handsets to send text messages in three surges: spreading updates last month, sharing concern early this month and exchanging jokes or poetic, mass-produced anti-Sars messages. Mobile phone recharge cards were sold out periodically late last month, although handset sales were down because they depend on people browsing crowded shopping areas.