Bioterror Fever Grips the World

Panic gripped the globe as the number of people testing positive for exposure to anthrax in the world's only superpower increased alarmingly today.

Fear seemed to be a shared emotion as a "globalized" world closely monitored the developments in the United States during the past three days and false alarms, evacuations and tightened security greeted people from London to Slovenia today.

Although no anthrax cases outside the United States have been confirmed, hoaxers, and sometimes genuine panic attacks, caused disruptions across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

London police today confirmed that 12 employees from the London Stock Exchange were taken to hospital for tests after a suspect package was delivered to the exchange building. The employees worked in the mailroom, police officials told ABCNEWS, and were being tested as a "precautionary measure."

Emergency services went on alert in Belfast as well as the British towns of Hatfield and Chelmsford after postal workers reported that suspect packages were leaking white powder.

The incidents came despite a warning from Britain's Chief Superintendent Kevin Morris that hoaxers face long prison sentences.

Scare Mongering and Genuine Fears

But sheer panic, if not intentional scare-mongering, disrupted services around the world. An Austrian Airlines jet bound for New Delhi, India, from Vienna was turned back after a passenger found white powder near her seat, said airline officials. The package was sent for testing and the aircraft was carefully searched.

Bioterror gripped Australia today as health officials confirmed that 57 anthrax scares were probed, despite a plea by Prime Minister John Howard urging Australians not to panic.

The U.S. consulate in the Canadian city of Halifax was briefly evacuated after an unidentified white powder was found in the building.

In Sweden, workers at a government office reported receiving a package containing a white powder, which was turned over to health officials for testing. Reports from the test have not yet come in.

In the Netherlands, officials tested 10 packages said to contain a white powder and found no trace of anthrax. And in Paris, a post office and a bank were temporarily shut down following an anthrax scare. French officials said tests conducted on employees came out negative.

There was a minor panic in the South African city of Cape Town when letters containing a suspicious powder were mailed to two homes. Nineteen people, including 15 policemen who handled the letter, were undergoing tests, said South African authorities.

Bolivian emergency services went on alert when two suspicious packages were found on the premises of a business establishment. No traces of anthrax were found.

Prepared for a Crisis

As emergency services around the world responded to panicked calls, governments of several countries were assessing their ability to respond to a bio-crisis.

Following false alarms, one of them at the British Consulate in Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs today issued a statement saying Singapore had adequate medical supplies to deal with anthrax.

Kuwait, the tiny Gulf state familiar with bioterror following widespread reports of Iraq's biological weapons capability during the Gulf War, today announced that it was prepared to face an anthrax attack, should it occur.

The Sound of Hope

Sometimes the incidents were incongruous, even humorous. In the East German town of Chemnitz, an elderly resident called local authorities in a panic after receiving a package marked "Gift" from the United States. "Gift" is the German word for poison.

And in Canada, a mailing from World Vision Canada, a Canadian-based aid organization, caused a panic when recipients received a package stamped with the message: Shake this envelope and hear the sound of hope.

If not exactly the sound of hope, fans of corrido, a folk music popular in Mexico, have been tuning in to the sound of the times. In Mexico City, Rigoberto Cardenas, a popular corrido composer famous for his "narco-ballads" extolling the heroics of legendary drug traffickers, is releasing his latest work on the terror of the times. Cardenas' latest Bin Laden Corrido though is not so much an exhortation as a denouncement of the terror, direct and indirect, that the Saudi-born millionaire is suspected of unleashing on the world.