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Thailand Issues Emergency Regulations Allowing Quarantine of SARS Pneumonia Patients - 2003-04-01


Asian governments are increasing their safeguards against the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS - a deadly new type of pneumonia that has claimed more than 60 lives and infected 1,700 people on three continents.

In Thailand, the government announced an emergency regulation Tuesday giving health officials the authority to put anyone suspected of having the disease into quarantine for up to 14 days. Officials posted at Thailand's international airports will focus especially on passengers from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore, where most of the SARS cases have been reported.

Thailand has recorded only one death from the disease. The victim, a World Health Organization doctor from Italy, is believed to have been infected in Vietnam while investigating the disease there. There are five other suspected cases in Thailand.

Vietnam says it plans to send quarantine experts to its border with China as part of efforts to keep out additional cases of the illness. Four people died in Vietnam after the disease swept through a hospital in Hanoi. The Hanoi government says the disease is now under control.

Taiwan has banned boats from sailing between an outlying island chain and mainland China as a precaution.

SARS is believed to have originated in Southern China late last year but only recently began showing up elsewhere. China has provided few details so far about the extent of the disease there, but Liu Jianchao, a foreign ministry spokesman, denied that the government has been covering the story up, saying the Chinese government has adopted a very responsible attitude and is working tirelessly to prevent the disease. He said China is safe, and the government has nothing to hide.

Singapore says it will quarantine the 26 members of its men's and women's rugby teams for one week. The teams have just returned from the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament. None of the players showed visible signs of the disease, but the players were told to stay at home as a precaution.

Indonesia is on heightened alert and has begun handing out flyers to those arriving on international flights, advising them to go to the hospital immediately should they develop any symptoms of the disease. Burma has done the same. Malaysia has asked its citizens to postpone non-essential travel to affected countries.

Australia announced Tuesday its first suspected SARS case, but said the man, a British tourist, has since recovered and returned home. That brings to 16 the number of countries and territories that have reported cases of SARS. The disease has been fatal to about four percent of those infected.