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SARS Spreading Swiftly Across Asia - 2003-04-25


We begin today on the international medical and health front. The deadly SARS virus - severe acute respiratory syndrome - is spreading swiftly across Asia. More than 250 people around the world have died from the disease and 4,500 have been infected. Carol Pearson has the latest on the measures being taken to contain this disease.

China is implementing a new policy of quarantining SARS-affected areas. The Chinese government has sealed off a major hospital in Beijing and put more than 2000 employees under observation. Police were posted around the Beijing University People’s Hospital to stop anyone from entering or leaving. The hospital is not one of those set aside to treat SARS patients, but at least 60 of its staff have confirmed or suspected cases of SARS.

A hotline has been set up to answer individual questions about the disease. And Chinese television programs keep viewers up to date on the spread of the virus. The World Health Organization warns travelers to avoid going to Beijing, China’s Shanxi province and Toronto, Canada, to limit the spread of this deadly disease. Angry Canadian officials are challenging the warning, but WHO spokesman Klaus Stohr says it is necessary.

KLAUS STOHR, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SPOKESMAN
“We have to prevent the transmission of this disease into developing countries which are not capable of coping with a health emergency of this nature. If we move now quickly, we can prevent the spread and Toronto will be playing a decisive role in the control of this important, infectious disease.”

In Asian countries the mortality rate is edging up from an initial 5 percent to somewhere between 7 and 10 percent of all cases. SARS is a flu-like virus. It was first reported in southern China last year, but it has now spread to more than 20 countries worldwide. SARS has also had serious economic repercussions.

The World Bank has lowered its yearly growth forecast for east Asia by one percent. It predicts Hong Kong will be especially hard hit, as people cancel trade shows and conferences and even trips to the store.

Because of the plunge in air travel, Asia’s airline industry is expected to lose about 10 billion dollars this year. In Toronto, businesses fear the same economic impact from SARS.

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