- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

BEIJING Beijing city officials told 4,000 people suspected of being exposed to SARS to stay home yesterday as quarantined medical workers in Taiwan held a rowdy protest and Hong Kong hospitals were accused of not properly protecting frontline doctors from the deadly virus.
Countries worldwide were struggling to contain varying outbreaks of the flulike severe acute respiratory syndrome illness that has already killed more than 260 people and infected more than 4,300.
The former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in Hong Kong that doctors probably will never be able to eradicate SARS, but they should be able to bring down the numbers of infections and deaths.
"What we can hope for is a suppression and minimization," said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a former director of the CDC and now vice president of health affairs at Emory University in Atlanta.
"To think that, magically, this government or any government or any scientist in the world could stop this, like you stop a car at a stop sign, is very unrealistic," said Dr. Koplan, a consultant to SARS researchers at the University of Hong Kong.
In Toronto, tourism businesses braced for disaster after the World Health Organization added the city to a list of countries that people should avoid visiting. Sixteen persons have died in Canada, most of them in Toronto.
In Beijing, officials sealed off Ditan Hospital the third medical center to be closed this month in the Chinese capital. Earlier this month, foreign reporters were allowed to tour the 500-bed facility, which officials considered a showcase of the government's efforts to battle SARS. The hospital specializes in infectious diseases.
So far, officials have reported 42 SARS deaths in Beijing and a total death toll of 115 nationwide. The country has reported a total of 2,422 cases, with more than 750 in Beijing.
Two days after invoking emergency powers to quarantine people, Beijing health officials ordered 4,000 people to stay at home because they had "intimate contact" with others showing symptoms.
Guo Jiyong, deputy director-general of the Beijing Health Bureau, didn't say who the people were or how long they had been ordered to stay home.
China also said it would spend $420 million to set up a nationwide health network to fight SARS and other medical emergencies.
It also earmarked $240 million to pay for emergency medical services for people with SARS who can't pay for their own care, Vice Prime Minister Wu Yi said in a report to the national legislature.
In the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, about 30 nurses and workers were fed up with being quarantined for two weeks at the Hoping Hospital, which reported 10 probable SARS cases earlier this week. They complained that confining people could expose healthy staffers to the disease.
Some protested by tossing bottles and paper out of windows and displaying banners saying "Wrong Policy" and "Long, Long 14 Days."
"This is ridiculous. Why can't I go home?" yelled a woman with a gauze mask tightly strapped to her mouth.
Taiwan has reported 41 probable cases, but no deaths.
Canadian officials said they would appeal the WHO advisory against travel to Toronto, noting that Canada's more than 300 probable and suspected SARS victims falls far below China and Hong Kong and they have aggressively tracked and isolated all cases.
"They don't know what they're talking about," Mayor Mel Lastman told CNN, referring to the WHO. "Who did they talk to? They've never even been to Toronto. They're located somewhere in Geneva."
In Hong Kong, local news media accused the hospital authority of not providing enough protective gear for frontline workers hundreds of whom have been sickened by SARS on the job.
Many staff working in the 14 hospitals treating SARS patients have been wearing paper gowns that don't offer enough protection when workers come into close contact with SARS patients, the South China Morning Post reported.
The hospital authority's acting chief executive, Dr. Ko Wing-man, conceded problems in dealing with the crisis, which has infected about 1,500 people in Hong Kong and killed 109.
"I must admit the performance of the whole management, especially under my guidance, does not reach many people's expectations," Dr. Ko said in a radio interview.
In the Philippines, officials said that two persons have died of SARS and two others are infected. Previously, the government said the country was free of the illness.
Vietnam was counting down to Monday, when the WHO is prepared to announce that it is the first country to have a local outbreak and then rid itself of the virus.
Five persons died in Hanoi after an outbreak at a hospital stemming from an infected patient from Hong Kong, but no new cases of the disease have been reported in Vietnam since April 8.
One WHO official said yesterday he believes measures introduced to control the spread of SARS will eventually succeed.
"I think it is some way to go before we can say it is under control, but it is getting there," said Dr. Mark Slater, a medical officer from the WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases, Surveillance and Control. He spoke to reporters while at a health conference in Malaysia.

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