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W.H.O. Says Outbreak of SARS is Easing, Except in China. - 2003-05-01


The World Health Organization says there are signs the worldwide outbreak of the deadly flu-like disease SARS is easing with the exception of china. Chinese officials say they are working overtime to control the spread of the virus but the outbreak in the Chinese capital Beijing remains severe. The highly infectious disease has killed at least 375 people worldwide and sickened more than 54-hundred people in 20, mostly Asian countries. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins has more.

China reports 11 SARS deaths and 166 new cases Wednesday, more signs the virus is spreading.

The outbreak remains particularly serious in Beijing where the death toll has reached 75. At a news conference mayor Wang Qishan told reporters that the situation is so bad in the capital that city hospitals designated to handle SARS cases do not have enough beds for patients. The facilities are also running low on medications, respirators and surgical masks.

Health care workers shuttle patients to newly created SARS treatment facilities. World Health Organization officials worry the country’s health care network is overwhelmed.

HENK BECKEDMAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
“The public health system in China has been under funded for the last 20 years. And I do believe that this public health system is barely ready to deal with a disease like SARS.”

But China’s leaders say the country will do whatever is necessary to deal with the virus. Construction workers scramble to build isolation hospitals. Military medics will take care of the SARS patients, who will be confined to small isolation rooms.

While the disease is spreading, so too is fear. Some residents of this countryside town vandalized a school when word spread that a building would be transformed into a ward for SARS patients. At another village near Beijing, people set up roadblocks and turn away outsiders who might carry the virus.

In other parts of Asia, health care workers remain vigilant. In Taiwan, authorities closed a hospital where SARS patients were being treated and began disinfecting the building. But not everybody on the island is concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN
“I am not worried at all, I do not think the disease is horrible. I have lived here for a very long time, and I have nothing to worry about.”

But in places like Singapore, where 23 people have died the SARS epidemic is being taken very seriously. Along with pencils and books, school children must now pack thermometers in their bags so they can check their temperatures. While some view the measures as extreme, the World Health Organization says meticulous screening is the best way to prevent more outbreaks of SARS.

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