WHO Links China Outbreak That Killed 34 to Epidemic
Singapore Officials Confirm First Death, Report Second Fatality Linked to SARS
The World Health Organization for the first time has linked a pneumonia outbreak in China to a mystery flu-like illness that has hit other countries on three continents. The global death toll from the combined outbreaks climbed to 52 on Wednesday.
Chinese authorities said the disease has killed at least 34 people 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.
World health 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 around the world: 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 Wednesday, officials said, and all schools were ordered shut until April 6 as a precaution as a health 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," he said.
The WHO has called on Beijing to be more cooperative.
Taiwan also urged China on Wednesday 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."
Singapore's closure of schools, from day-care centers to junior colleges, will keep a half-million students temporarily out of class. "On purely medical grounds, there are currently no strong reasons for closing all schools," said Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's education minister. "However, principals and general practitioners have reported that parents continue to be concerned about the risk to their children in schools."
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 Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau would confirm only five closures _ after eight students were infected by sick relatives or health-care workers -- but officials acknowledged some schools were closing at their own initiative.
The WHO said Tuesday it was concerned about the spread of SARS in Hong Kong, though it believed the disease has been contained in Vietnam and Singapore, two other hard-hit places in Asia.
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.
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 Wednesday that the professor had been treating atypical pneumonia patients in the mainland before he came to Hong Kong, where he died in early March.
Chinese officials said previously that 305 people were sickened in the atypical pneumonia outbreak. But a spokeswoman for the Guangzhou city government, who identified herself only by the surname Ye, said Wednesday that 792 cases of atypical pneumonia were reported in the province by the end of February, with 680 in the provincial capital Guangzhou. Ms. Ye said 31 people in Guangdong had died by the end of February. Three others died in Beijing this month, the city said Wednesday.
Hoping to avoid any SARS cases in the Philippines, officials in Manila on Wednesday urged travelers from countries hit by the disease to stay at home for a week in voluntary quarantine. Foreign Secretary Blas Ople also cautioned Filipinos to limit travel to countries with known cases of SARS.
Tens of thousands of Filipinos work in Hong Kong and Singapore, many as domestic helpers.
Philippine officials also convinced the parents of a Filipina maid, Adela Dalingay, who is believed to have died of SARS this week in Hong Kong, to have her remains cremated to avoid difficulties of transporting the body home, the foreign secretary said. No official cause of her death has been given.
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