- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

HONG KONG — China yesterday reported its lowest daily number of SARS cases since April — the latest sign that the virus is retreating in Asia — but Canadian health authorities remained on high alert after four deaths possibly caused by SARS.

In Taiwan, the capital’s mayor and other officials handed out free thermometers in a islandwide “take-your-temperature” campaign, amid evidence that containment efforts were paying off. The number of daily infections remained in single digits for the third day in a row.

But the economic effect of severe acute respiratory syndrome kept spreading. Northwest Airlines expects to furlough 150 more pilots because of cutbacks in Asian flights caused by fears about the virus, the pilots’ union said.

In measures that officials hope will boost the hard-hit travel and tourism industry, China and the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to screen every international traveler for SARS and notify one another of any suspect cases.

“It’s going to get better. When we can control this disease, tourists will come back,” said Chaiwat Mahithipak, director of Bangkok International Airport, who represented Thailand at the Beijing meeting of health, immigration and other officials who drew up the plan.

Another regional grouping, the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, is to approve an emergency SARS plan in a meeting in Thailand this week. No details on the plan were available immediately.

The global death toll from SARS was at least 767, with more than 8,300 people sickened since the virus first appeared in southern China in November. Most of the victims have been in China and Hong Kong.

China yesterday reported two new cases on its mainland, the lowest for a single day since authorities began daily reports in April. It also announced no new SARS fatalities, a first in seven weeks. The death toll remained at 332 out of 5,330 cases.

In Hong Kong, three more deaths were announced yesterday, including that of Wong Kang-tai, 53, a ward attendant at the Prince of Wales Hospital. He is the seventh front-line health care worker to die of SARS among Hong Kong’s 281 fatalities.

The biggest outbreak outside Asia has been in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, where authorities thought they had beaten the disease until a new cluster of infections last month in two of the city’s hospitals.

Four persons died last week at another hospital, the Rouge Valley Centenary hospital. Tests on three of the four came back positive for the virus, though they are still not officially confirmed as SARS deaths.

“No matter how well we do, it only takes one case to start it all over again,” said Dr. James Young, Ontario’s commissioner of public safety. The virus, he added, “is extremely difficult to control.”

Toronto’s official SARS death toll remained at 30, but the number of cases rose by three to 46. About 7,350 people have been quarantined.

In Taiwan, which has had 81 fatalities and 680 infections, officials were upbeat yesterday, with four new SARS cases reported, and no deaths for the fourth successive day.

Economic growth rates across Asia have dropped because of the disease — 1.8 percentage points in Hong Kong, 1.1 percentage points in Singapore, 0.9 percentage points in Taiwan and 0.2 percentage points in China — according to the Asian Development Bank.

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