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Asia Takes Preventative Measures to Protect Citizens Against SARS - 2003-04-02

Preventative measures against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, were stepped up throughout Asia Wednesday, on the fringes of the disease's epicenter in Hong Kong and Southern China.

Thailand announced its second death from SARS: a 78-year-old man who had recently returned from Hong Kong. An Italian doctor working for the World Health Organization, first diagnosed with the illness while in Vietnam researching its origins, was the first: he died in a Bangkok hospital last week.

The Thai health minister also announced Wednesday that tourists arriving from countries hit by SARS must wear masks at all times while in Thailand. Those who refuse will face a six-month jail term and fine, and anyone arriving with symptoms of the disease will be deported immediately.

So far six SARS cases have been diagnosed in Thailand.

One of Singapore's largest technical colleges shut down Wednesday for at least five days, and the government warned more such closures could follow in a bid to stop the spread of SARS that has killed four people in the country.

Health officials are seeking to identify anyone who might have come in contact with a 20-year-old business student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic College who is suspected to have contracted SARS. More than 13,000 students are affected by the closure. There are 95 SARS cases in Singapore, and four people have died.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia are backing away from reports the disease had spread there. Indonesia's health ministry said on Wednesday there are no suspected cases in the country, despite a statement by the health minister a day earlier that three people were infected and one patient had died. The health ministry statement said confusion was the result of a misunderstanding on the minister's part.

And in Malaysia, the government is denying a report in the New Straits Times newspaper that a 50-year-old man who had just returned from China had died from the disease. The health ministry attributed the death to kidney failure. Malaysia also issued a temporary freeze on hiring foreign workers from nations affected by the virus. The Australian foreign ministry has issued a statement warning Australians to postpone non-essential travel to Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and Vietnam because of the disease. The World Health Organization issued a similar warning Wednesday, against all travel to Hong Kong or the Southern Chinese Province of Guangdong.