Taiwan Reports 55
New SARS Cases


(AFP) -- Taiwan reported another surge in SARS cases, but the government insisted new measures to control the spread of the disease were working and the epidemic would soon be brought under control.
The 55 new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome follow a record 65 cases Thursday. The island has recorded over 300 infections in the past week and is currently battling the fastest growing outbreak in the world.
The latest figures took the island's total to 538 infections and 60 deaths, but there are a further 1,000 suspected cases of killer respiratory illness.
Health officials played down the latest figures, saying they were the result of more effective screening of people who were already sick following a major shake-up in the island's anti-SARS efforts last week.
Li Ming-liang, who heads Taiwan's anti-SARS taskforce, said Friday the crisis in the southern part of the island had now peaked, and he urged members of the public not to be alarmed by the outbreak.
"Situations have stabilized in the south and there is no reason to panic," Li told reporters.
Special medical units had been set up to examine and observe people suffering from fever, instead of sending them directly to hospitals where they could be exposed to the SARS virus, Li said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had both accepted that Taiwan has now put in place more stringent measures for dealing with SARS, Li added.
The WHO earlier this week issued a new travel advisory warning against unnecessary travel to all parts of Taiwan because of the deteriorating situation. An earlier WHO advisory had only affected the capital Taipei.
Hospitals have borne the brunt of the outbreak on the island, but Taiwan Center for Disease Control director Su Ih-jen said medical staff now accounted for four percent of new infections compared with 30 percent earlier.
Su attributed the improvement to growing public awareness, tougher control measures and greater medical knowledge gained from bitter experience fighting against the virus.
Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Kaohsiung, the worst hit medical center in southern Taiwan with 13 deaths, said Friday the spread of SARS inside the facility had been controlled.
It would resume outpatient and emergency services next Thursday after a two-week suspension if no further SARS cases emerged, a spokesman said.
The WHO and US CDC have sent staff to Taiwan to help contain the outbreak.
One of the CDC specialists, Chesley Richards, was feared to have contracted the disease after developing SARS symptoms and was sent home Friday by a charter plane dispatched by the United States.
China, which earlier this week again successfully blocked Taiwan from obtaining observer status at the WHO, Friday offered the island a donation of 200,000 protective gowns, 100,000 N-95 masks and five ambulances designed to transport SARS patients.
Taiwan had yet to respond to the offer.
Japan was scheduled to send a three-member medical team Monday to help Taiwan contain SARS, Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said.
Taiwan's parliament meanwhile approved Friday a 50 billion Taiwan dollar (1.43 billion US) package to help relieve individuals and enterprises suffering from the epidemic.
The government has been under fire for inefficiency and lack of coordination during its SARS battle and last week it replaced the two top health officials.
Authorities here have also started investigating alleged delays, cover-ups and other irregularities at hospitals which are believed to have contributed to the spread of the virus.
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