- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

From combined dispatches
KUALA LUMPUR Asian health ministers yesterday called for checks on all departing passengers at airports and Beijing ordered closure of all public entertainment venues in the Chinese capital in an attempt to halt the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Rising death tolls in Asia and Canada provided a somber backdrop to a meeting in Malaysia of ministers from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and 10 Southeast Asian states.
"It's mandatory for all countries to undertake pre-departure screening," Malaysian Health Minister Chua Jui Meng said at a news conference, referring to a ministerial declaration.
"All SARS suspects, as well as probable cases, will not be allowed to travel, especially beyond their borders," Mr. Chua said, summarizing recommendations due before a SARS meeting of Asian heads of government in Bangkok on Tuesday.
In Beijing, the city's government ordered the closure of all the city's theaters, cinemas, Internet cafes and other public entertainment venues to "stop possible spread of the SARS virus and ensure public health," the official Xinhua News Agency reported today.
At the same time, a World Health Organization official said it may take years to find a vaccine for SARS, the virus that has killed at least 289 persons and infected 5,000 in more than 20 countries since it emerged in southern China late last year.
Canada has been hard hit by SARS with the only deaths outside Asia, all 20 in the Toronto area. The city has announced a multilingual advertising campaign to try to restore its reputation, amid a major economic blow by the virus and a WHO warning to travelers to stay away.
Roy Anderson, an authority on infectious diseases at Imperial College, London, said a study of about 1,400 SARS victims in Hong Kong suggested that the virus was more difficult to pass on than first feared but is also more deadly.
"This is not a highly transmissible infection," Mr. Anderson told BBC radio. "It's been effectively contained in most of the developed countries in the world with a very limited number of cases, Britain being a good example."
However, Mr. Anderson also found that the mortality rate may be as high as 10 percent, considerably worse than the 6 percent rate maintained by the WHO.
WHO official Mark Salter told reporters the search for an effective vaccine would take time.
"I think we are looking at two years, three years, maybe, before a vaccine," he said, adding that the WHO planned to pull together world vaccine experts next week to speed things up.
Asia has borne the brunt of SARS, battering economies and forcing governments to cut growth forecasts as retailers, airlines and tourist businesses are hit. Singapore has suffered most among Southeast Asian nations, with 18 deaths, followed by Vietnam with five and then Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, with two each.
The disease has caused widespread alarm in mainland China and Hong Kong. China recorded seven new deaths, taking the toll reported to 122 out of about 3,000 cases, and Hong Kong raised its fatality count by six to 121, with 1,527 cases.
In Beijing, people were trying to avoid crowds. Some neighborhoods were quarantined, and all elementary schools remained closed. In Hong Kong, the news media reported yesterday that a 28-year-old man was the youngest victim so far.
Canada has at least 341 probable SARS cases, and though the death toll rose to 20 from 19 yesterday, health officials are seething at the WHO's warning this week advising against travel to Toronto. The officials maintain the disease is contained to the original cluster of cases and has not spread to the broader community, although it continues to infect health workers.
Singapore said yesterday a 63-year-old man had died of SARS, bringing its death toll to 18. The city-state also reported its youngest victim yet, an 18-month-old girl. Singapore has implemented some of the world's harshest measures to deal with the illness, quarantining nearly 2,800 people and threatening them with hefty fines or six months in jail if they leave their homes.
"Let's take this thing seriously," said Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's senior minister. "If you don't behave, you are imperiling your neighbors, yourself, your country and the economy."
In remarks published yesterday, Mr. Lee said his wife had been quarantined after being treated in a hospital next to a patient who was later diagnosed with SARS and had since died.


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