Fear grows as SARS cases rise

  • AseanPlus News
  • Thursday, 10 Apr 2003

HONG KONG: Concern over the quickening global spread of a killer atypical pneumonia grew yesterday as more cases were reported in North America and the worldwide number of infections approached 3,000. 

In China, the epicentre of the outbreak, a doctor was quoted as saying that the death toll from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was higher than official figures stated. 

Canada overnight reported its detected cases of SARS had risen by six to 242. Already the worst hit country outside of Asia, the tally brought the world total of detected sufferers to 2,894 with 104 dead. 

Health Canada officials said the death toll had remained steady at 10 and that an 11th suspected SARS-related death was cleared of any link to the virus. 

Earlier, US health authorities said another 33 sufferers had been detected there since Friday, bringing the total of SARS cases to 148 with no deaths. 

Canada has taken strict measures to counter the spread of the disease since it was first discovered in March in an elderly woman who reportedly carried the disease back from here. 

Two hospitals have been closed and thousands of people – mostly healthcare workers – have been told to go into voluntary quarantine for 10 days. 

In China, where World Health Organisation (WHO) experts on Tuesday wound up a six-day investigation into the origins of the outbreak, news of a possible cover-up on the numbers of infections deepened suspicions over Chinese authorities' claims to have the disease under control. 

In a report on Tuesday, Time magazine said a local doctor claimed Beijing's main hospital for SARS cases had admitted 60 patients with the virus, of whom seven died. 

This contradicted Health Ministry figures that said only 19 people had been infected in the Chinese capital, including four who had died. 

“A failure to disclose accurate statistics about the illness will only lead to more deaths,” the doctor, Jiang Yanyong, told the magazine. 

China has taken a beating internationally for its slow response in addressing the disease. It has been the hardest hit, with 1,279 cases officially reported and 53 dead. 

WHO experts wouldn't be drawn on the report but said they were encouraged that new cases were at least being brought to light and urged “full and open reporting” of cases from Chinese authorities. 

The emergence of new cases suggests the virus has managed to evade containment efforts worldwide. 

Here, where the virus has infected 928 and killed 25, news that a cluster of cases had been discovered at another public housing estate raised questions about government containment measures. 

There was no indication of whether schools, closed since last month, would be reopened after the Easter break, and the end of a quarantine order on the hard-hit Amoy Gardens housing complex had returning residents in a panic over the safety of their newly disinfected homes. 

Legislator Dr Lo Wing-lok warned the city's hospitals faced a crisis as the number of intensive care patients threatened to overwhelm health authorities. 

Fears of the spread of SARS continued to take its toll on the global tourism industry as travellers opted to stay away from SARS-hit areas. 

Newspaper reports here said some five-star hotels had suffered a 90% drop in occupancies, while in Thailand, travel agents warned that the nation's vital tourist industry faced the worst crisis in its history. 

And the United States showed it was not immune from the SARS fallout with the announcement that lucrative Japanese arrivals in Hawaii had fallen 40%. 

There was more bad news from the already-depressed airline industry too, as Air Canada cancelled more flights to here, Shanghai and Beijing. 

Elsewhere, South Africa reported the first case in the African continent; Russia said it had two suspected cases; and a Chinese man became Brazil's third detected case. – AFP  

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