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Increasing  Efforts to Control SARS

Nearly 100 people in 18 countries and territories have now died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. More than 2,400 others are sick. But one health expert suggests there may be an encouraging twist to the worldwide crisis. Robert Raffaele has more.

Hong Kong’s government reported 41 more cases of SARS Monday, bringing the total closer to 900. 23 people have died in that territory.

This comes as government officials say hospitals are prepared for as many as 3,000 patients, if the epidemic increases.

Airports across the world are stepping up precautions to prevent the spread of SARS. That’s mainly because of concerns that the virus could be airborne, and thus easily transmitted among airline passengers.

On Monday, however, the head of the World Health Organization team visiting China’s Guangdong Province, told the Reuters news agency the rate of infection appears to be dropping rapidly in that region. But he also dismissed Chinese government accounts that SARS is under control.

Meanwhile, W.H.O.’s Director General, Doctor Gro Harlem Brundtland, speaking in New Delhi, India, criticized China for not informing world health officials sooner about the outbreak of the virus in Guangdong late last year.

“Would it have been better if W.H.O. had been given an opportunity with its experts to enter into Guangdong and be able to help the authorities there in dealing with the outbreak? – and there the answer is yes. That would have been helpful and it should have happened earlier, in my opinion.”

Doctor Brundtland did go on to say China is now cooperating fully with her organization. And while no SARS cases have been reported in India, Doctor Brundtland said she is confident Indian authorities are adequately prepared.

In Singapore, crews are working to disinfect schools, train stations, and other public buildings. Eight people have died there, and more than 1,000 people have been quarantined. Although he canceled a trip to China because of the health crisis, Singapore’s prime minister told residents to go about their daily routines.