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New SARS Cases Alarm China and Neighbors - 2003-04-21

In China, new information from the health ministry indicates Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, is infecting more people than previously thought.

The World Health Organization Monday told VOA there are 109 new SARS cases in Beijing, including two deaths. That raises the number of people infected in the Chinese capital to 448, including 20 deaths.

The news comes a day after Beijing's mayor and China's health minister were removed from their Communist Party posts for mishandling the outbreak.

Nationwide, China is reporting 1,959 cases and 86 deaths. Some 400 other suspected cases are under investigation.

The Hong Kong government says six more people have died of SARS, and 22 new cases have been confirmed. The territory has had 94 deaths, the highest number of fatalities since the mystery virus first appeared in southern China in November.

But Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa says the SARS situation is "stabilizing" and that quarantine measures are producing tangible results. "There were 150 people, suspected SARS cases, we detected," he said. "We gave them early treatment. It's not only helped them to recover, but also prevents them from spreading the disease further out."

Hong Kong Health Minister Margaret Chan says the government is a step closer to mandatory temperature checks for both inbound and outbound airplane passengers to better screen anyone who may have the virus.

"This afternoon, we test run the operation, and, hopefully, within the next day or two, we will put it in full operation," she said.

Many Hong Kong schools will reopen Tuesday after a three-week precautionary closure.

Macau is reporting its first suspected SARS case. A 38-year-old woman is in quarantine there after showing flu-like symptoms. The former Portuguese colony's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and gambling revenues from Hong Kong visitors.

Philippine officials say a woman who died last week in Manila is "probably" the country's first SARS-related death. Authorities believe she contracted the illness during a recent visit to Canada.

And Singapore is beginning to put the city-state's largest wholesale vegetable market under quarantine, after one of the market vendor's was confirmed to have SARS. Some 2,400 workers will be off the job for at least 10 days.

The World Health Organization says more than 3,800 cases of SARS have been reported from 25 countries. The death toll is fewer than 200 worldwide. Hundreds of patients have been discharged after making a full recovery from what experts say is a form of atypical pneumonia.