13 more die of SARS in Asia

Thousands quarantined

fatalities reach Philippines

Strict new measures in effect

April 26, 2003|By Anthony Kuhn, Tyler Marshall and Thomas H. Maugh II | Anthony Kuhn, Tyler Marshall and Thomas H. Maugh II,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BEIJING - The SARS outbreak continued its relentless spread across Asia yesterday with 13 deaths, including the first two in the Philippines, and the quarantining of thousands more people amid a slew of harsh measures.

Beijing officials closed a third hospital and two college dormitories, and tried to halt the mass migration of laborers and students back to their homes in the provinces.

Shanghai braced for a possible sharp increase in reported cases as authorities there adopted World Health Organization standards for defining cases.

Taiwan sealed off a hospital where more than 25 new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome were reported. And the Philippine government passed sweeping measures empowering the health minister to establish and enforce quarantines.

In Canada, the WHO refused to lift a warning against unnecessary travel to Toronto that was issued Wednesday.

"There will be no suspension for Toronto," WHO spokeswoman Christine McNab said yesterday.

Another WHO official, in Shanghai, said the outbreak could become a horrifying epidemic if it spreads into China's more rural provinces and into densely populated nations such as India and Bangladesh, where medical facilities are lacking.

"There will be various countries in the world where we would be really concerned because we don't think they have the capacity to stem the tide once it is introduced," said Dr. Wolfgang Preiser, the WHO official.

As of yesterday, the WHO had reported 4,649 cases of SARS worldwide, with 276 deaths. Mainland China and Hong Kong accounted for 4,111 of the cases and 230 of the deaths. There have been 140 probable cases in Canada and 18 deaths. The United States has 37 probable cases and no deaths.

Beijing police taped off the 500-bed Ditan Hospital, one of the city's main hospitals for infectious diseases, yesterday, although some medical workers were allowed to leave the building. An unknown number of SARS patients were quarantined inside the hospital, where Foreign Ministry officials organized a tour for foreign journalists less than two weeks ago.

In western Beijing, authorities shut dormitory buildings at the Central University of Finance and Economics and the Northern Transportation University, sealing hundreds of residents inside, state news media reported.

SARS has killed 42 and infected 870 of Beijing's 13 million residents. Yesterday, Beijing authorities ordered 4,000 residents who had had "intimate contact" with people who had SARS symptoms to remain at home for 10 days.

SARS claimed its first two lives in the Philippines yesterday, Philippine Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said. The two were a nursing assistant who contracted the disease in Toronto and her father. Two other SARS cases were confirmed. Until yesterday, Philippine authorities had said the country was SARS-free.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered Dayrit to "contain, control, prevent and restrict" the spread of the virus. New measures give the police power to impose and maintain quarantines.

In Taiwan, authorities sealed off Taipei Municipal Ho Ping Hospital on Thursday after detecting more than 25 suspected SARS cases. More than 1,000 medical staff members and patients will be quarantined in the hospital for as long as two weeks.

In Hong Kong, authorities announced six more deaths from SARS, raising the territory's toll to 115. The dead included a 42-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man, both of whom had been in good health before contracting the virus.

A former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visiting Hong Kong yesterday, warned that SARS is likely to affect Hong Kong for years to come.

Speaking at Hong Kong University, Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan of Emory University in Atlanta said containing the virus is a more realistic goal than eradication.

"To think that, magically, this government or any other government or any scientist in the world could stop this like you stop a car at a stop sign is very unrealistic," Koplan said.

SARS is characterized by fevers, coughing and lung congestion, which makes breathing difficult. It is caused by a newly identified coronavirus, a distant cousin of the viruses that produce many common colds. Researchers think the virus was passed from animals to humans in China's Guangdong province.

In Beijing, Vice Premier Wu Yi, who recently replaced fired Health Minister Zhang Wenkang, announced a raft of emergency measures to the legislature, including one to provide $422 million to build a national public health network.

China reported five deaths yesterday.

Outlining the government's strict new policies of monitoring, reporting and quarantining of SARS patients, government spokesman Cai Fuchao pledged that officials "would not let a single case slip by."

The government's measures included surveillance and mobilization tactics left over from the Maoist era. In Beijing's Shaoyaoju neighborhood, the local neighborhood committee put up posters instructing Communist Party members to report suspected SARS patients for authorities to quarantine.

The committee's elderly men and women, wearing red armbands, are nominally the lowest level of municipal government, enforcing birth-control policies and watching the comings and goings of residents and strangers.

In apparent conflict with the Cabinet order not to evict migrants, the posters give non-Beijing residents three days to return to their hometowns or be forcibly removed by police.

Anthony Kuhn, Tyler Marshall and Thomas H. Maugh II are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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