- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

Sunnybrook Hospital, a major trauma center in Toronto, has closed its trauma unit and redirected ambulances after reporting a new cluster of about 12 possible cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, all involving medical workers, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Saturday.

CBC said there were four suspected cases of SARS at the facility and eight other cases being investigated. It's believed the medical staff were exposed to two SARS cases at the hospital.

"This is not an insurmountable setback," Sunnybrook infectious diseases specialist Dr. Andrew Simor told reporters at a news conference on Saturday. "This is a cluster that happened at a hospital setting, and my feeling is that it is generally somewhat easier to control things within the hospital setting," he said.

Elsewhere in the Toronto area, York Central Hospital, re-opened its maternity and emergency wards, officials announced Saturday. Scarborough Grace Hospital, in the city's northeast, is expected to follow suit soon.

Scarborough Grace "is considered to be ground zero of the SARS outbreak in Canada," CBC said. Toronto is Canada's worst-hit city — and among the most affected in the world. All of Canada's 14 SARS deaths have been in greater Toronto, including a 99-year-old male whose death — on Friday — was disclosed on Saturday.

CBC said officials are to meet on Tuesday to discuss "worst-case" scenarios.

A city council member in Toronto told CBC Newsworld on Saturday that the disease was starting to have an economic impact. "We are talking … millions of dollars in lost potential (economic activity)," said Joe Mihevc, who chairs the city's health board. The network said business leaders plan a summit on April 28 to discuss the problem.

In Hong Kong, a record 12 deaths were reported from SARS on Saturday. Officials there said 81 people have died out of 1,358 cases. The total case number includes 31 reported on Saturday. The Hong Kong death toll is the world's highest so far.

According to Radio Television Hong Kong, the latest fatalities were aged 37 to 87, seven of whom were elderly with other chronic diseases. The others were healthy at the time of infection, RTHK said.

Doctors in Hong Kong, and those in Toronto, said it appeared that many of the newer cases were proving harder to treat, and more cases were being reported involving younger people without previous illnesses. In the early stages of the epidemic, elderly individuals with pre-existing conditions were most affected.

RTHK also said a British male suspected of being Indonesia's only SARS case had broken a home quarantine order and fled to Hong Kong. Hong Kong Director of Health Margaret Chan said information provided by Jakarta had allowed local authorities to track him down. Also, a cabin attendant from Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific has been diagnosed with SARS. The attendant had been on Flight CX714 from Singapore to Hong Kong on Tuesday, RTHK said; the flight carried about 220 passengers.

Other reports said that the SARS epidemic could push Hong Kong into recession. The Hong Kong Standard said Saturday that this forecast was being made by an economist at the Asian Development Bank. Pu Yonghao said that while external trade could limit the impact of a relatively short epidemic, one that lasted six months could mean a recession. The newspaper said 10 banks had already cut their economic growth forecasts for Hong Kong, with Standard Chartered and HSBC taking the number to below 1 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia:

— There were at six suspected SARS cases in South Korea. The Korea Times, quoting the National Institute of Health, noted that several had recently visited China.

— Vietnamese health authorities proposed that the country's northern land border with China be temporarily shut to prevent the spread of SARS, according to Channelnews Asia's Web site. It wasn't clear when the border closure would start. Vietnam has had 68 SARS infections and five deaths, the site said. According to the World Health Organization, a week has passed since Vietnam reported a new probable case of SARS and there were no new deaths in this period. WHO said 10 patients were listed as recovering from SARS, none of whom is listed as in critical condition.

— There have been two cases of SARS in India, according to the national news agency, Press Trust of India. These are out of 12 suspected cases. The Times of India reported on Saturday that Air-India had suspended all flights to Singapore from Delhi and Hyderabad. In addition, flights to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta were temporarily discontinued. The Times said these decisions were taken as traffic fell and pilots refused to fly some routes.

— Hotel occupancy rates in Kuala Lumpur have fallen to about 33 percent, vs. about 65 percent before the epidemic, a Malaysian financial Web site — Theedge.com — reported.

As of Saturday, WHO had recorded 3,547 SARS cases worldwide with 182 deaths reported from 25 countries. The fatality total was up by 12 Saturday, all from Hong Kong.

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