- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

From combined dispatches
BEIJING China ordered all public schools in its capital closed yesterday, leaving almost 2 million students to study at home after a major jump in the number of reported SARS cases in the city.
Today, Beijing also ordered the sealing off of the 1,200-bed Beijing University People's Hospital because of SARS and police were posted to stop people going in or out, hospital staff said.
The hospital, which has about 2,300 on its staff, was sealed off at around 1 a.m. today.
"No one is allowed to enter or leave," one staff member told Reuters news agency by telephone. "There are policemen and security guards standing outside."
The rise in SARS cases in China and Canada led the World Health Organization yesterday to warn against unnecessary travel to parts of China or Toronto, where officials said the advisory was not warranted because the disease is being brought under control.
Canada has been the most affected area outside Asia, with 15 deaths so far, all in the Toronto area. But Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer, said the WHO travel warning was a "gross misrepresentation of the facts."
The true situation in Toronto, she said, was that the outbreak is "serious and it is contained largely in hospitals which is, frankly, where it belongs."
The WHO warning will have "an unnecessary as well as a detrimental impact on our city and we can't afford that," she said.
Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Toronto to help officials figure out how to stop the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome within hospitals.
Major League Baseball also will advise teams visiting Toronto in the coming weeks against signing autographs, visiting hospitals, using public transportation or mingling with large crowds.
Dr. David Heymann, WHO's communicable-diseases chief, said the travel warning for Toronto, Beijing and China's Shanxi province will be in effect for at least three weeks.
"These areas now have quite a high magnitude of disease, a great risk of transmission locally outside of the usual health workers and also they've been exporting cases to other countries," Dr. Heymann said.
The WHO already issued similar warnings about Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where the disease is believed to have originated.
An estimated 4,000 people worldwide have been infected by SARS, and about 250 have died, mostly in Asia. The United States has reported 38 probable cases and no deaths.
Beijing authorities said yesterday they plan to invoke emergency measures to quarantine people exposed to SARS and restrict access to buildings where there are infections.
The statement, released by the local television station, did not provide details on how the new measures will be enforced or where people will be quarantined.
The Chinese school closure begins today and lasts for two weeks through the May Day school holiday, an official of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission said.
Beijing newspapers cited a government notice that the move was meant to prevent the spread of SARS, which has killed at least 28 persons in the capital. The closure will affect about 1.7 million students.
Beijing's total cases have increased from 37 before Sunday to 588 yesterday. Nationwide, China has reported 106 deaths from SARS and says it has more than 2,100 people infected.
Thousands of nervous people in gauze masks gathered in train stations in the capital to get out of town.



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