- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Americans should take precautions when traveling to Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning, in order to contain a pneumonialike illness that has killed more than 200 people worldwide.
The Atlanta-based CDC will distribute notices asking Toronto travelers to monitor their health for at least 10 days upon their return to the United States for symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Travelers are advised to avoid hospitals, clinics or other facilities that care for SARS patients.
The CDC stopped short of issuing an advisory against all unnecessary travel to Toronto, as it had for Singapore, Hong Kong and China. Americans also may "wish to postpone their trips until further notice" to Vietnam, the CDC said in a statement.
The World Health Organization yesterday reported the death toll from the virus at 229 with at least 3,947 total infections worldwide.
Canada is the only country outside Asia experiencing a SARS outbreak, with 316 cases and more than a dozen deaths reported.
Concerns have hurt tourism and travel industries. Crystal Cruises is denying vacations to Toronto residents.
The United States reports that 38 persons, most of whom have traveled to Asia, likely have been infected by the SARS virus.
In Canada, one outbreak occurred after a churchgoer attended Mass. Officials also were concerned that a health care worker in the early stages of the infection used mass transit.
The leading official monitoring the SARS outbreak in China yesterday expressed little optimism that the disease could be contained quickly and said the communist health care system had collapsed in many provinces.
"It is not an underestimate to say that if China cannot deal with SARS, it will be a problem globally," said Dr. Henk Bekedam, chief representative of the WHO.
"That is the problem in dealing with diseases like SARS: It does not respect borders," Dr. Bekedam said. "I think we're going for a very big outbreak."
The WHO confirmed the mortality rate had grown from 4 percent to more than 5 percent. Officials are concerned that infections will continue to spread rapidly because of ill-equipped health care facilities.
"I believe the public health system has collapsed over the last 10 to 20 years because the central government has not invested in health," Dr. Bekedam said. "We are thinking the public health system is quite ill-equipped in poorer provinces."
The death toll in China yesterday grew to 97. Military hospitals increased the number of reported cases from 44 to 339, Dr. Bekedam said.
The WHO was allowed to inspect seven of China's 179 hospitals after receiving reports that the government was grossly underestimating case numbers.
The illness is believed to have originated in China's southern Guangdong province in November.
Scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute report the virus is "expected to mutate very fast and very easily," causing difficulties in creating a vaccine.
Chinese officials were urging residents to ignore the Golden Week holidays next week, when tens of millions of city dwellers were planning to return to their home villages.
Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington yesterday called an abrupt end to its spring semester studies in Nanjing, China.
"There have been no cases of SARS reported either at the center or in Nanjing, and the joint decision is strictly precautionary," spokeswoman Felisa Neuringer Klubes said in a statement.
Belize is banning visitors from Canada and is refusing visas to travelers from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, India and Canada.

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