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SARS Concerns Heighten in China - 2003-04-28

A top official of the World Health Organization says the worst of the SARS epidemic appears to be over in Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and Vietnam. But officials are worried about the situation in china where the disease is still spreading rapidly. VOA-TV’S Chris Simkins has more on the story.

In Beijing theaters were dark and Karaoke clubs were silent as health officials ordered them close to prevent the SARS virus from spreading. Many parts of the Chinese capital are looking like a ghost town because people fled the city or stayed at home.

Some people have no choice. Health authorities say nearly eight thousand people are now quarantined and the number of SARS cases in Beijing has jumped above one thousand. Across China at least 139 people have died from SARS. On Monday alone eight new SARS deaths were reported and more than 200 new cases were disclosed.

“I think everyone can understand the government’s position. At this time people should stay home and not go out.”

With SARS now reported in 20 of 30 Chinese provinces, health officials are intensifying efforts to stop the virus from spreading. Workers are even spraying disinfectant on tires of vehicles in Beijing and cleaning countless public areas.

In nearby Taiwan officials announced the first SARS death. The government there issued a blanket ban on travel for people coming from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Canada.

In Hong Kong the government reacted angrily, saying Taiwan’s decision will do more harm to regional economies already reeling for the SARS outbreak.

“The HKSAR government does not believe that this measure is necessary and we also believe that it is not in the interest of facilitating economic, commercial, tourism and other exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

At airports around Asia workers stepped up efforts to check travelers for symptoms of SARS. They are even using thermal imaging video cameras to check body temperature. The World Health Organization says these strict procedures may be paying off by helping to contain the deadly virus.

Scientists say that several countries affected by SARS in Asia are seeing fewer cases every day. In Vietnam health investigators say the virus has been contained with the number of new cases cut down to zero.