TAIPEI, Taiwan - The World Health Organization extended its warning yesterday against unnecessary travel to Taiwan's beleaguered capital city, along with the mainland Chinese areas of Tianjin and Inner Mongolia as the SARS epidemic continued to inflict economic and social damage across Asia.
The new WHO warning expanded the alert beyond the current advisories against travel to the Chinese areas of Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangdong province and Shanxi province, which have been the focus of the outbreak of the pneumonia-like severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The world death toll from the SARS epidemic reached 506 yesterday with 7,053 infections reported.
Russia threatened to restrict travel to China as that country reported its first case of SARS, and North Korea, long isolated from the international community, sought $1.5 million from the Red Cross to help prevent incursions of the virus.
Compounding concerns about the SARS outbreak, Cambodian officials reported the death of seven people from an unidentified form of pneumonia in two impoverished regions near the country's border with Vietnam. WHO and Cambodian officials said there is no evidence yet to indicate the deaths are linked to SARS.
But the worst news came from Taipei, where officials reported at least six new cases of SARS that could not be traced to foreign travel or to other SARS victims.
Such instances of so-called community infection have been a harbinger of much larger outbreaks to come in other countries that have been affected by the disease.
Taiwan authorities also were investigating the death of a 63-year-old man in the southern city of Kaohsiung, which represented the first Taiwanese SARS case outside Taipei.
Taiwan has 132 probable SARS cases and 14 deaths. The island trails only mainland China and Hong Kong with its SARS caseload.
"It is a grim situation at the moment," said Dr. Lee Ming-liang, who was recently appointed to head a SARS task force. "Our most important task at this point is to track down the sources of community infections."
The increases have been especially bitter for Taiwan, which has imposed some of the most draconian measures of any country in its efforts to control the disease.
Authorities require all passengers on trains and buses to wear masks, and visitors to buildings with more than 100 workers must have their temperatures taken before entering.
The country also is imposing mandatory 10-day quarantines on all visitors from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto - a step that is devastating its economy.
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian told his Cabinet last night that he would order the army and police to take a more active role in enforcing the quarantine and pursuing violators.
"No other country has imposed such restrictive measures, but it seems they are not very effective and people are frustrated," said Andrew Yang, of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a Taipei think tank.
Mainland China reported 146 new infections and five deaths yesterday, bringing the total there to 4,698 cases and 224 fatalities.
Thomas H. Maugh II, Barbara Demick and Anthony Kuhn write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.