- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

From combined dispatchesBEIJING — The World Health Organization yesterday advised against travel to two more provinces in China and the capital of Taiwan, as WHO experts headed to China’s hinterland, where they fear SARS is beginning to spread fast.The WHO extended its SARS-related travel warning yesterday to the provinces of Tianjin and Inner Mongolia as well as to Taipei, capital of Taiwan. Taipei officials said SARS had probably spread into the community and the next five days would be crucial.Severe acute respiratory syndrome has sickened more than 7,000 people around the world and killed more than 500.China’s Health Ministry said yesterday five more persons had died of SARS, including the first in its commercial capital of Shanghai, and another 146 had been infected — roughly the same daily toll as in previous weeks.Basketball star Yao Ming, a center for the Houston Rockets, is in Shanghai ahead of a three-hour celebrity telethon and charity drive Sunday that is expected to raise millions of dollars for SARS prevention and treatment.Speaking to reporters yesterday, the 7-foot, 5-inch Mr. Yao said he washes his hands every hour in order to avoid catching the SARS virus.China has had 4,698 cases, the bulk of the world’s total, and its death toll now stands at 224.Four WHO health experts headed yesterday to Hebei province, where the number of probable cases has risen sharply, to see if health care systems there could cope with a SARS outbreak.The province almost surrounds Beijing, which has the world’s highest number of SARS cases with 112 dead and 2,136 confirmed cases, and is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers — many from Hebei.China said yesterday it has punished more than 120 officials in the past month for covering up the extent of the SARS outbreak or failing to prevent the spread of the virus, the Web site of the Xinhua news agency said.The WHO travel advisory against Taipei came as Taiwan reported another 22 probable and suspected cases, taking the island’s infections to 360, third-highest after China and Hong Kong. The death toll remains at 13. The Taipei American School, which has 2,100 students, said it has closed for the year.The U.N. health agency had already advised against travel to Beijing, the provinces of Guangdong and Shanxi, and Hong Kong.Hong Kong, the worst SARS-hit area outside mainland China, reported four more deaths and seven new cases yesterday, the lowest number of infections reported since the outbreak began.Russia, with a 2,250-mile frontier with China, has closed some Far East border crossings to try to prevent the epidemic’s spread and has said it might order a halt to “all air travel to airports in China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.”The step came as health officials acknowledged that a 25-year-old Russian man who has been hospitalized near the Chinese border almost certainly was the first case of SARS in Russia.Italy yesterday announced it was reinstating border controls with other European Union states to fight the spread of SARS, suspending the agreement on free movement of people among the EU states. Italy has reported a total of nine probable SARS cases, five of whom have recovered after treatment.In Athens, Greek Health Minister Costas Stefanis advised the country’s hotels against receiving guests from countries where SARS has broken out and spread. However, he ruled out a travel ban from countries where the epidemic is raging.In South Africa, health officials said there were some 150 SARS scares in the country but only one probable case. The man, who showed symptoms upon his return from Hong Kong although repeated laboratory tests were negative, died of a cardiac condition at the end of April.

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