More deaths in Asia linked to SARS
April 5, 2003 12:49 p.m. EST
SINGAPORE — Hong Kong and Malaysia reported new deaths from a mystery illness Saturday, bringing the global death toll to at least 89, while China vowed to share more information on the disease that apparently started in one of its southern provinces.
Hong Kong reported three new deaths and said the number of its people infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, had risen to 800 – accounting for more than a third of the world’s more than 2,300 cases. The disease has killed 20 in the territory.
President Bush followed the lead of governments in Asia and Canada by giving American health authorities the power to quarantine anyone infected with the disease. U.S. health authorities are investigating about 100 suspected cases of the disease at home. The U.S. Pacific Command ordered all military personnel not to travel to China and Hong Kong – including Navy ships that regularly dock in Hong Kong – unless it was essential to their missions.
In China, where the government has been criticized for failing to notify the international community when SARS first hit in November, Vice Premier Wu Yi promised to start releasing more information to the public, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Malaysia became the 20th place to join the list of SARS-affected areas after confirming that the illness killed a 64-year-old man who died on March 30 in Kuala Lumpur. He developed SARS symptoms during a recent visit to China, said Malaysia’s Health Ministry Director-General Mohamad Taha Arif.
Thailand’s health minister, Sudarat Keyuraphan, said he was considering calling military medics to help screen incoming passengers for the disease. The World Health Organization has reported seven SARS cases and two deaths in Thailand.
Singapore said the number of new infections in the city-state was dropping and people should resume their normal routines. The government said it would begin reopening the country’s schools in the coming week after shutting them last month due to the disease, which has killed six people and infected 103. However, parents will have to sign declarations saying their children are healthy, and students who have traveled outside Singapore will have their temperatures taken by school staff for 10 days after their return. Singapore’s economic losses for the first month of the outbreak could total an estimated $286 million could hit $2.3 billion if the outbreak continues for three months, Standard Chartered Bank economist Joseph Tan was quoted in the Straits Times newspaper.
In China’s southern Guangdong province, a WHO team met at Zhongshan University where experts have collected hundreds of specimens of blood, lung fluid and other materials from people who died of SARS and those who recovered, team leader Dr. Robert Breiman said.
WHO wants to compare the samples to determine whether those who died were killed by a combination of viruses or bacteria or just one strain, he said. The meeting came after the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, Li Liming, offered the world an extraordinary apology for failing to release information sooner about the disease – first detected in China in November.
In Hong Kong, hygiene workers in protective suits collected rats and roaches for testing at the Amoy Gardens apartment complex, where at least 250 residents were infected. They hope the pests may hold a clue to how the disease was transmitted. Agricultural officials also rounded up pets, from dogs to turtles, from the building after a cat was found to carry a type of animal virus called a coronavirus. Experts believe SARS might be a new form of the virus, the South China Morning Post reported. Fear of infection kept many Hong Kong residents from crossing over to mainland China to sweep their ancestors’ graves for the ancient Ching Ming festival.
In Australia, staff of the national airline Qantas were trying to contact 310 passengers who were on flight QF094 from Los Angeles to Melbourne with three children suspected of carrying the disease. The children and their parents flew from their home in Toronto for a holiday in Melbourne.
Cleaners, maintenance staff, pilots and flight attendants who had contact with the aircraft are also being alerted to watch out for symptoms which include high fever, aches, a dry cough and shortness of breath.
More deaths in Asia linked to SARS