The outbreak of atypical pneumonia has strengthened ties between Canada and Hong Kong, says Canadian Chamber of Commerce executive director Allan Matheson. Canada and Hong Kong both had to contend with controlling the disease, also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. They have emerged from the crisis with a deeper understanding of each other, Mr Matheson says. Also, the flow of business between Canada and Hong Kong does not appear to have been affected, although it is still too early to fully gauge the longer-term impact of the health crisis, he says. Both destinations have suffered in terms of reduced numbers of visitors. 'There are likely to be both positive and negative aspects,' Mr Matheson says. 'At the end of the day, battling Sars should pull both places closer together.' With about 800 members, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is one of the more active chambers in Hong Kong. Mr Matheson says chamber members in the travel and hospitality industries were hit hardest. However, a few businesses did quite well because of the outbreak, he says. One company that specialises in video conferencing experienced a significant upsurge in business because few companies were willing to risk face-to-face meetings. The chamber launched three initiatives to help rejuvenate links between Hong Kong and Canada. The first is a member-based business exchange, which kicked-off last Friday with a gathering of 25 companies that displayed products and services. There were also speakers on topics such as cutting costs. 'This was a great practical networking experience and the chamber is likely to make it a regular thing. There were about 300 in attendance. The focus of the seminars was on how to help members - many of whom have had a difficult time with Sars - to cut costs and raise revenues,' says Mr Matheson. The second initiative was Canada D'eh, a celebration in Lan Kwai Fong held yesterday. Some of the big names behind the event included Canadian entrepreneur Allan Zeman, co-chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Association. The party was really a celebration of ties between Hong Kong and Canada as 150,000 to 200,000 Canadians live here. The third initiative is now in the planning stages and aims at helping chamber members move into the mainland, and especially the Pearl River Delta region. Three delegations are planned, with the first to focus on outsourcing. A group will visit operations in Shenzhen of the Sunday mobile-phone company and meet human resources and legal experts in Guangzhou. The second delegation will focus on logistics and visit Nansha. The third will focus on productivity and manufacturing, and will probably visit Dongguan. These visits will begin in autumn and continue over the coming year. 'For Canadian business, it will show why Hong Kong is important and why they should be here doing business,' Mr Matheson says, adding that Hong Kong's health system handled the crisis quite effectively, which should also encourage people to come here to do business. An institution that was able to take Sars in its stride was the Canadian International School, which handled the crisis with minimal disruption thanks to its information technology system. This enabled students to study online from home, says school principal Allan McLeod. The school, which has 1,330 students enrolled aged from four to 18, followed the government's original closure guidelines and shut its doors on March 31 for just over two weeks, although it remained operational. 'As the Sars crisis increased, parents, especially of younger kids, decided not to send them to school,' he says. The switch to e-learning was not disruptive because the Canadian school system is based on continuous assessment, rather than rote learning and exams. Mr McLeod jokes that there is still a backlog of student assignments still to be marked. 'All along, we have had good dialogue with parents and decisions were made collectively and after consultation with governors and staff. 'Still, it has been a challenging year with Sars and the Ontario change-over of curriculum,' says Mr McLeod. The school has adopted the curriculum of Ontario province and recently switched to a system that requires students to obtain 30 credits over four years, rather than five. It also stepped up hygiene measures, including banning the use of water fountains and installing water dispensers in their place.