- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

BEIJING World Health Organization officials investigating a deadly outbreak of pneumonia this past winter in China yesterday said they are increasingly convinced it is the same mysterious illness that has since spread to nearly a dozen countries, killing at least 52 persons.
Chinese authorities said the disease has killed at least 34 persons in China since November: 31 in the south and three in Beijing. Hundreds have been infected. Previously, they said only five had died in southern Guangdong province.
WHO officials later said the symptoms of the Chinese illness are consistent with those for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which has sickened nearly 500 people and killed 18 elsewhere: 10 in Hong Kong, four in Vietnam, three in Canada and one in Singapore.
A second person suspected of having the disease died in Singapore late yesterday, officials said, and all schools were ordered shut as a precaution. More than 700 people in the city-state have been ordered to stay home under quarantine or face fines.
"Everything we've seen so far indicates it's the same disease," said Dr. Meirion Evans, a member of a WHO team that has studied the cases in southern China, but not yet those in Beijing.
"We're getting a more complete picture," Dr. Evans said. "It's certainly been one of the objectives of the mission to clarify whether the outbreak in China was the same disease as what's been seen outside of China.
The WHO has called on Beijing to be more cooperative.
Taiwan also urged China yesterday to be more forthcoming.
"Because the mainland is not sharing information, the source of the contagion has not been clear and the period of risk for the outbreak has been lengthened," said a report from Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which handles the island's relations with rival China. "This hasn't helped us protect ourselves from an epidemic."
Health officials said Tuesday they had quarantined about two dozen possible carriers of SARS in Canada after the number of probable cases in Ontario jumped from 10 to 18.
In Hong Kong, where numerous citizens are going about town in masks, media reported that about 60 schools have been closed as a precaution.
The disease is believed to have spread to Singapore, Vietnam and Canada by people who caught it while spending time last month on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong, where an infected mainland Chinese medical professor was a guest.
The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported early yesterday that the professor had been treating atypical pneumonia patients in the mainland before he came to Hong Kong. The professor died here in early March.
Chinese officials said previously that 305 persons were sickened in the atypical pneumonia outbreak.
But a spokeswoman for the Guangzhou city government, who identified herself only by the surname Ye, said yesterday that 792 cases of atypical pneumonia were reported in the province by the end of February, with 680 in the capital Guangzhou.

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