SINGAPORE: Singapore said yesterday fears of a SARS outbreak at a mental hospital were unfounded, leaving it on track to be declared free of the disease, but Taiwan announced its biggest one-day jump in those infected. In Geneva, the World Health Organisation said most outbreaks are coming to an end.
Taiwan's new health minister, Chen Chien-jen, said the outbreak had worsened because “sick people have been hiding their symptoms and starting outbreaks at hospitals.” He did not elaborate.
The previous health chief resigned on Friday to take responsibility for the island's outbreak. Chen is a highly respected epidemiologist.
Yesterday's increase brought the total number of SARS cases on the island to 308, but the death toll stayed at 37, health officials said. They said 50 SARS patients had recovered.
SARS has sickened more than 7,700 people worldwide and killed at least 620. The number of new cases has been declining in most areas, except Taiwan.
But the WHO said yesterday the majority of the SARS outbreaks around the world are coming to an end.
Difficult struggles remain in mainland China, but the epidemic there, although very large, is no more complex than it is in other countries and the government is making great strides, said Mike Ryan, WHO's co-ordinator of the global effort to stop the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus from taking root. He was speaking at the end of a conference in Geneva of scientists from 16 SARS-struck locations.
Singapore's health ministry said it tested 54 patients at the Institute of Mental Health and results showed none had traces of the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome. The statement said the patients were instead sick with influenza.
Singapore last reported a confirmed new SARS case on April 27. If no new cases are reported by today, the city-state will have completed the 20-day period needed for the World Health Organisation to declare its epidemic under control.
Officials reported yesterday that 12 more people died from SARS – five in Hong Kong and seven in mainland China.
Hong Kong's Hospital Authority apologised yesterday for a mix-up over two patients' identification that led officials to notify the wrong family of an 88-year-old woman's death from SARS.
Also yesterday, the WHO warned against non-essential travel to the northern Chinese province of Hebei because of the spread of the SARS virus there.
In mainland China, doctors failed to diagnose SARS in two patients who visited hospitals and possibly infected others, prompting officials to quarantine more than 200 people in Lanfang city in the northern province of Shanxi, state media reported yesterday. None has so far shown signs of infection.
Meanwhile, a health official warned more farmers were catching the disease in the province, where nearly 500 people have been infected, media reported.
China is struggling to protect its vast rural hinterland from SARS.
A WHO expert said on Friday Beijing hospitals were failing to record some possible SARS cases, leading to possible under-reporting of the size of the capital's outbreak.
Chinese leaders have promised to report honestly on SARS and have threatened to punish officials who try to conceal cases. – Reuters
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