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SARS Continues Spread to New Areas of Asia - 2003-04-12

The spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS continues into new areas and new countries in Asia, even as the region's governments take stronger measures to contain the disease.

Indonesia on Saturday said it had two probable cases of SARS, the flu-like illness that can develop into fatal pneumonia. It was only a day earlier that Indonesia announced its first probable case.

The Philippines also announced its first suspected case of SARS on Friday. And the country is bracing for the return of thousands of workers next week from Hong Kong, which has one of the highest numbers of SARS cases in the world. The workers, mainly women, will be flocking home for the Easter vacation, and the Philippine government is hoping they won't bring the disease with them.

One person who may not be visiting the Philippines is Wu Bangguo, the leader of China's parliament and one of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party. Mr. Wu was due to arrive with a large delegation in early May, but the Philippines Foreign Office has reportedly asked Beijing to postpone the visit, due to fears about SARS. The disease originated in Southern China, and continues to spread within the country.

According to the official New China News Agency, the disease has now shown its face for the first time in the region of Inner Mongolia. Ten people there were infected, and two of them died, bringing the official number of SARS deaths in China to 60.

Governments and airlines are canceling flights to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore, where most of the SARS cases have surfaced. New measures to check the health of incoming and outgoing passengers are being announced almost daily.

Malaysian Airlines announced the cancellation of 716 flights on 14 routes Saturday. The Malaysian Foreign Ministry, extending its control over visitors from hard-hit areas, says it will stop issuing entry visas to tourists from Taiwan. Taipei called this an "over-reaction," and asked Kuala Lumpur to reconsider the ban.

Thailand, which has taken some of the strongest measures to stop SARS from being carried in by air travelers, reported another new case on Saturday. So did Vietnam, one of the first countries hit by SARS.

And individuals continue to take their own protective measures. Travel agencies in Guangzhou, the capital of the region where the disease is thought to have originated, have reportedly been receiving hundreds of cancellations for next week's Canton Trade Fair. The fair is one of China's most important commodities exhibitions of the year.