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New SARS Cases Emerge in Asia after Short Break - 2003-04-07

New outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Hong Kong and Vietnam in recent days are dashing hopes the spread of the disease is slowing in Asia.

A new outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome emerged in Vietnam after 10 days in which no new cases were reported. The World Health Organization says that, at first, the outbreak was limited to a hospital in Hanoi.

"There is a new cluster in Vietnam," said Peter Cordingley, the Asia Pacific WHO spokesman. "A guy who was in Ninh Binh province, he visited his daughter at the French hospital. A female doctor in Ninh Binh has also fallen ill."

So far, there have been at least 60 cases in Vietnam's capital, including four deaths.

WHO says the disease has spread to more than a dozen countries. The United States, China and Hong Kong recorded the biggest increases in new SARS cases in recent days.

China began daily reporting of new SARS cases on Saturday and added more than 50 to its list of more than 1200 cases. Worldwide, SARS has infected more than 2,400 people and killed at least 90.

In Hong Kong, one of the hardest hit cities, the number of new cases jumped during the past three days, dampening hopes the outbreak is subsiding. Officials say two Hong Kong hospitals are facing fresh outbreaks among health workers treating SARS patients.

Hong Kong has seen 883 cases of SARS with 23 fatalities, but more than 100 people have recovered.

Hong Kong officials say city hospitals are preparing for a "worst case scenario," and could handle up to 3,000 patients, if the outbreak continues.

But Dr. Lo Wing Lok, a lawmaker representing Hong Kong doctors, say authorities are overestimating their ability to cope.

"The whole hospital authority has the capacity to look after about 1,500 patients," said Dr. Lo Wing Lok. "We are not operating hotels, just beds alone are not sufficient. The hospitals have not taken into consideration the very intensive need for expertise."

Elsewhere in Asia, since Friday, Japan and Singapore reported cases, while Indonesia announced it would stop sending workers to cities with SARS outbreaks.

SARS patients suffer from a high fever and flu-like symptoms during the disease's onset, but usually develop pneumonia and require hospitalization.