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Spread of Sars in China feared as global death toll climbs

The latest figures pushed the global death toll to at least 223. More than 4,000 people are confirmed or suspected to have been infected by the disease in around 30 countries since the crisis erupted.
Spread of Sars in China feared as global death toll climbs
AFP, April 22, 2003

HONG KONG -- Fears over the scale of the Sars crisis facing China deepened on Monday as the global death toll from the virus climbed steadily upwards, with the health ministry reporting the disease has claimed 92 lives.

After admitting more than 700 confirmed or suspected Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) cases in Beijing Sunday, China's health ministry increased the toll Monday as the orders for full disclosure kicked in.

In figures released late Monday by state media, the health ministry said 92 people had died on the Chinese mainland from Sars and some 2,001 were suffering from the disease.

Xinhua reported ministry figures indicating there were 13 more Sars deaths and 194 new cases of the disease between April 19 and 21.

Earlier Monday, eight new deaths were reported in China through various state media and official channels in the provinces of Guangdong, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia, and the cities of Tianjin and Beijing.

Unofficial tallies said the cases had been detected in four provinces -- Zhejiang, Jilin, Liaoning and Gansu -- previously free of the killer disease. State media added another two areas to the list -- Shanxi and Tianjin.

The spread of the disease has fuelled concerns that Sars is gaining a foothold in every corner of China.

A US-based analyst said China's decision to cancel week-long May Day holidays to keep people from traveling would have little effect since the virus had probably already spread to all corners of the country.

"It's too late," said Andrew Thompson, an expert on Chinese health issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's got to be everywhere by now, and if it isn't, it will soon be there," he said.

A six-person team from the WHO arrived in Shanghai Monday to investigate the extent of the outbreak in China's biggest city and were promised by the city's deputy mayor Yang Xiaodu that his administration would offer every assistance.

In a reciprocal move, mindful of its feet-dragging on the issue in the past, the Chinese Cabinet decided to send Sars-fighting teams to cities, provinces and autonomous regions, including Beijing, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Guangdong and Ningxia, the Xinhua news agency said.

China earlier Monday formally sacked Beijing mayor Meng Xuenong, who had been expected to lose his job after being stripped of his high-ranking position in the ruling Communist Party on Sunday.

In an effort to combat the pneumonia-like disease, China will mass produce a Sars test kit as soon as it is approved by the national medical authority, Xinhua reported a senior biologist as saying.

Called the Enzyme Link Immuno Adsorbent Assay, the test would be able to detect the virus within an hour, according to Yang Huanming, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Yang said estimated daily production of the test kit could already meet the demands of 10,000 people, and output is soon expected to grow to 100,000 a day, Xinhua reported.

In Hong Kong on Monday six more people died after a grim weekend in which 19 had died, taking the Sars death toll to 94. Another 22 new cases were reported, with the number of cases reaching 1,402.

The authorities do not include in their figures an American national who was pronounced dead on arrival at a Hong Kong hospital after being transferred from mainland China.

Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-Hwa expressed confidence that Sars in the territory was gradually being contained.

"I think we are slowly, but surely getting the figures stabilized," Tung said.

The latest figures pushed the global death toll to at least 223. More than 4,000 people are confirmed or suspected to have been infected by the disease in around 30 countries since the crisis erupted.

In addition to China and Hong Kong, deaths have been recorded in Singapore (14), Canada (14), Vietnam (5), Thailand (2) and Malaysia (1).

In Singapore quarantine orders are being served on an estimated 2,400 people who could have been exposed to the deadly Sars virus at a produce market where a worker has been infected.

The Philippines and Taiwan reported Monday what could be their first deaths from Sars, with tests being carried out to confirm the cause of death, and Macau announced its first suspected Sars case.

And after giving itself the all-clear earlier Monday following a suspected sufferer testing negative for the virus, India reported it had finally been hit with the disease with three new cases detected, taking its total to four.

The Sars outbreak has dealt a blow to the regional economy, especially to tourism-related industries.

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