- (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 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
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
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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