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Sars ‘can still be contained’

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The World Health Organization chief says the world has a “window of opportunity” to contain the pneumonia-like virus which has claimed about 300 lives.

The World Health Organization chief says the world has a “window of opportunity” to contain the pneumonia-like virus which has claimed about 300 lives. Strict new measures being implemented in Asia, at the heart of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) epidemic, were not over the top but “prudent and necessary”, said Gro Harlem Brundtland. On Sunday, Hong Kong announced 12 new deaths and China reported nine – eight in Beijing. Of 161 reported new infections, four-fifths were in Beijing. In response to the escalating crisis, Beijing shut down what the official news agency called “all entertainment businesses involving mass public gatherings” – cinemas, theatres, and internet cafes as well as schools. Authorities in Taiwan have announced the island’s first Sars death. They have imposed a two-week ban on entry to visitors from badly affected areas, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto, Canada. Taiwanese citizens returning from such areas face 10 days’ quarantine. It was among several countries announcing stringent new measures to try and contain the illness. ‘Century’s first epidemic’ Asked on the BBC’s Breakfast With Frost programme whether Sars was the “first global epidemic of the 21st Century”, the WHO director-general replied: “Yes, this is correct. It will historically be seen that way.” She said the world still had a “window of opportunity to avoid the virus becoming endemic, such as flu and HIV… to contain it – lessen it where it is, and stop it spreading”. Ms Brundtland said advocating tough action – such as advising against travel to Toronto – was not excessive. “We are doing what is prudent and necessary … before [the disease] becomes global and constant,” she said. “If this outbreak reaches poor, undeveloped parts of Africa, we are in trouble.” China, where Sars is thought to have originated, is – after a wave of criticism for its initial reticence – now taking big steps to try to contain the illness. Entertainment centres and other public places have been closed down in Beijing, where 126 of 161 new cases were reported on Sunday. Beijing’s third-largest university was reportedly sealed off, with no-one allowed to enter or leave. However, BBC correspondent Jonathan Head says the government is worried that the virus could have been carried into rural China with an apparent exodus from the capital – conjuring a nightmare scenario of mass contagion. He says the government is suspicious at the lack of cases being reported in big rural provinces. Vice Premier Wu Yi – who stepped into the shoes of the sacked health minister – is to send inspection teams to look for signs of a continuing cover-up. In other parts of Asia: Authorities in Taiwan place a two-week moratorium on visa issue for visitors from afflicted areas, and put its own citizens returning home into 10 days’ quarantine after a 56-year-old man became the island’s first sufferer to die In the Philippines – which has recorded four cases and two deaths – the government says violators of quarantine could be detained by police. An estimated 200 people in one town, where a nursing aide died, have been placed under mass quarantine Cases in Singapore appear to be declining, with the imposition of stringent measures including thermal imaging of passengers at airports to detect those with high temperatures The WHO says Vietnam – which has reported no new cases of Sars in 18 days – could be declared the first country to have contained its outbreak. Asian health ministers met on Saturday to discuss how to co-ordinate the response to Sars. In a statement released afterwards, they said they were “convinced of the effectiveness of screening of passengers before they leave affected areas in preventing the spread of Sars”. They agreed to share information to trace the spread of the virus, but each country still has discretion on whether to accept travellers from affected regions Hong Kong announced a further 12 deaths – taking the total number so far to 133 – and 16 new cases of Sars on Sunday. Two health workers were among those newly infected, it said. Six deaths announced there on Saturday included a 28-year-old man. He is believed to be a computer engineer who lived in Kowloon and the youngest victim in the territory so far. The death of a young, and apparently fit, man stoked fears that the disease was becoming more virulent.Fears of the economic impact are playing on the minds of many governments in the affected area, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reports from Singapore. High mobility among East Asia’s populations has been a crucial factor in its economic success, he says, and without it the region’s prosperity is bound to suffer. (Source: BBC, Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK)

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Posted On: 28 April, 2003
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

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