- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

HONG KONG Hong Kong reported a record 12 deaths in a single day from severe acute respiratory syndrome yesterday, while Singapore's leader warned that the outbreak could become the worst economic crisis his city-state has ever faced.
Concern about the SARS virus is so strong that Vietnam was considering closing its border with China, where the disease is believed to have originated. The global death toll hit at least 185, with at least 3,000 people infected so far. Hong Kong had 81 of those deaths or about 44 percent and was becoming the global epicenter for the disease, for which there is no proven cure.
Critics wonder whether mainland China was covering up information about the disease because it has reported just 67 SARS deaths. Premier Wen Jiabao demanded timely and honest reporting of SARS cases after China was accused of hiding its real number of infections.
"Anyone who covers up SARS cases or delays the release of information will be harshly punished," Mr. Wen was quoted as saying in yesterday's China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper.
Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday that the SARS outbreak could become the worst economic crisis the city-state has faced. He also announced tough new measures to try to contain SARS, including prison sentences for people who defy quarantine orders.
"SARS will knock you backward. It may even kill you, but I can tell you SARS can kill the economy and all of us will be killed by the collapsing economy," he said.
Hong Kong tried to calm its 6.8 million residents yesterday by starting a cleanup campaign also intended to reassure international companies that the territory is a safe place in which to do business.
The Hong Kong health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, put on rubber gloves to stir up a mixture of water and bleach which can kill the SARS virus and then started scrubbing the floor of a downtown vegetable market.
"Personal hygiene and environmental hygiene are two important objectives," Dr. Yeoh said.

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