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More SARS Deaths Reported in China

Turning now to the latest developments about SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Taiwan’s health chief has stepped down, accepting blame for a major outbreak of the deadly virus at a Taipei hospital. She is the second Taiwanese health official to resign in the past two weeks.

China, meanwhile, reported two more deaths and eight new cases Monday. In Canada, a new rash of SARS cases is sparking renewed concerns. Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 700 people and has infected another 8,000. Robert Raffaele has the latest.

In Canada, health officials announced three more SARS deaths and six probable cases in the nation’s largest city, Toronto. That brings the death toll in that area to 27.

Monday, the World Health Organization announced it was placing Toronto back on its list of SARS-affected areas, but stopped short of warning against travel to the city.

Ontario’s Health Commissioner, Doctor Colin D’Cuhna, says he remains optimistic about the fight against the virus.

“We have faith and confidence in our front line health care workers in detecting SARS early, and faith and confidence in our public health system, and health care systems to catch and contain the disease.” Meanwhile, the emergency room at Taiwan University Hospital re-opened Monday, after it was closed for two weeks. There are 585 reported SARS cases in Taiwan.

Seventy-two people have died since March. Taiwan reported 15 new SARS cases Monday, but no new deaths.

Taiwanese officials say the virus could be contained in a few weeks, barring any new outbreaks.

Taipei’s Sheraton Hotel also re-opened, after it was closed temporarily for de-contamination.

Fears about SARS did NOT dissuade residents from standing in long lines for a special lunchtime promotion. The Sheraton sold one-dollar box lunches to attract customers.

In Hong Kong Monday, authorities reported just one new death and one new SARS infection. Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said it would discount landing fees paid by airlines as much as 50 percent over the next six months.

Many airlines that serve Asia have seen dramatic drops in passenger levels since the SARS outbreak. Transportation officials hope the airlines can pass on the discount to their customers.

The move comes after the World Health Organization lifted its warning against non-essential travel to Hong Kong and southern China.

The encouraging developments were a cause for celebration for many Hong Kong residents. Twenty-five thousand people turned out Saturday to enjoy a stadium benefit concert for SARS victims, the first major outdoor event in Hong Kong in months.

The show stretched more than five hours, featuring several of the region’s biggest pop stars, including Jackie Cheung and Kelly Chan. Tina Lau is a spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s performing artists guild.

“Artists, I think, always have this ability to express messages, or publicize messages, because they do draw attention, and we tonight, hope to express a very positive message of caring for the others, helping the needed, and show our concerns.”

In Taiwan, some high school students are literally putting a funny face on the SARS crisis. Some 2,000 schoolgirls at one Taipei school took part in a mock fashion show.

The catwalk competition featured colorful and humorous versions of those protective masks worn by millions during the outbreak.

The school’s dean said the contest was meant to reassure students, while reminding them to take precautions.