More SARS Deaths Hit
Canada - Panic Grips Beijing

(AFP) -- Canada reeled from three more SARS deaths as the death toll in Hong Kong and mainland China continued to mount, sparking scenes of panic in Beijing.

As 14 SARS deaths and more than 200 new cases were reported worldwide, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials visiting Shanghai warned China's biggest city could expect a "substantial" rise in suspected cases in the coming week.

The warning came as China announced that it would invest some 3.5 billion yuan (421 million dollars) in a nationwide public health network capable of dealing with health emergencies like the ongoing outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Toronto's latest deaths were another serious blow to the city, which is struggling to rebuild its international image in the wake of a damaging WHO travel advisory which is due to be reviewed on Tuesday.

They follow remarks by Prime Minister Jean Chretien that the outbreak was "quite contained" in Canada.

Canada's death toll now stands at 19, the largest outside Asia, and one official warned it may rise.

"There remains some people who are very ill with SARS. We can only hope and pray for their recovery," said Ontario's public security commissioner, Dr. James Young, adding that the deaths included a 44-year-old man who was otherwise healthy.

"The 44-year-old gentleman who died today is unfortunately and tragically the first person we've had who is younger in age and does not have co-morbid conditions," Young said.

But WHO expert David Heymann said there was no evidence that the virus was mutating into a more deadly form and said the chances of bringing SARS under control were good.

"We've had 26 countries so far in which we've had the disease, the vast majority of those, 23, have contained the disease extremely well," Heymann said in Geneva.

"We've one or two situations still where there's active transmission ongoing and certainly in a country like China with a very large population there is a possibility that the disease can become established and remain in the human populations," he said.

"But we do have an opportunity to break the cycle of transmission in this disease and we have an opportunity to put this disease back in the box."

The virus' economic impact continued to be felt by airlines, with top carriers such as Dutch outfit KLM announcing flight cuts as both tourists and businessmen stay at home.

Japan Airlines suspended trips to China and Russian carrier Pulkovo has shelved flights to Beijing. Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific has already cancelled 45 percent of its flights.

Meanwhile China's 420-million-dollar public health venture was announced by Vice Premier Wu Yi, Xinhua news agency said.

"China will set up a national public health command mechanism and strengthen its disease surveillance, information and lab diagnosis networks in order to improve its capability to handle disease outbreaks," the report said.

But a WHO team in Shanghai warned the city could expect a "substantial" rise in the number of suspected SARS cases in the coming week.

Under a new definition adopted by Shanghai health officials only three days ago, the new classification of suspected SARS would greatly expand the number of suspected cases, said WHO team member Daniel Chin.

China's health ministry announced five new deaths from SARS and 180 new cases, but more than 100 cases were in Beijing where the WHO said the situation was serious.

The authorities in the city have placed two hospitals treating SARS patients in total isolation, quarantined 4,000 residents in their homes and set up police road blocks to prevent sick people fleeing.

But as the price of foodstuffs surged on the back of panic-buying and rumours the whole city would be isolated, the government was forced to formally deny it was on the verge of declaring martial law.

The mysterious respiratory illness first emerged in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong five months ago and has now killed at least 276 people, mostly in Asia, and infected more than 4,800 people in some 30 countries.
Hong Kong on Friday announced six new deaths and 22 new cases, bringing the death toll in the traumatized city on the southern Chinese coast to 115.
Scientists have managed to identify the coronavirus -- from the family which causes the common cold -- as the cause of SARS but they are still battling to develop a simple diagnostic test for the illness.

Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, the former director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters in Hong Kong a vaccine was likely "years away."
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