In a surprise reversal of its usual policy, Beijing has approved a visit by World Health Organization officials to Taiwan, to study the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome there.
The Chinese government has agreed to a visit by WHO experts to Taiwan, where eight people have died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the disease is still spreading. The decision marks a departure from Beijing's usual insistence that international organizations not deal with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province.
The approval appears to be another indication of how seriously Beijing is now taking the SARS outbreak. The communist government has consistently opposed Taiwan's membership in any international bodies, including the WHO. A statement from China's official news agency, Xinhua, gives no specific reason for the exception, except to say that China is "concerned about the health and well-being" of Taiwan's people.
China itself came under sharp criticism last month for failing to deal quickly enough with the SARS outbreak. The disease first appeared in Southern China, and the country so far has reported 190 SARS deaths, including nine more on Saturday, and almost 4,000 infections.
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is drafting a bill which would give her government stronger powers to deal with SARS. Mrs. Arroyo isn't specifying what those powers would be, but she says the bill would increase the health secretary's ability to act as a "crisis manager." There have been two known SARS deaths in the Philippines, and the government is asking its people to cooperate with quarantines of areas suspected to be infected.
Singapore is dealing sternly with a 50-year-old man living in a quarantined area who is accused of repeatedly flouting quarantine orders. According the Singapore Straits Times newspaper, the authorities arrested the man after he allegedly went out drinking several times, even showing his quarantine order to customers in a coffee shop. Twenty-five people have died out of 203 known SARS cases in Singapore.
Globally, SARS is known to have infected 6,046 people, and 417 have died. The World Health Organization says the rate of increase is stabilizing in most countries, with the exception of Mainland China, where SARS continues to spread rapidly.