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Beijing,Taipei Seal Off Hospitals Amid SARS Fears - 2003-04-24


Governments in Asia are trying desperately to contain outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, by invoking quarantines and sealing off hospitals where the disease appears to be spreading.

No one was allowed to leave or enter the People's Hospital of Beijing University on Thursday, after authorities ordered the facility sealed.

A large number of health workers in the hospital had reportedly contracted the disease.

But the vice director of Beijing's Center for Disease Control, Shi He Xiong, denies that the hospital is shutting down.

He says staff was simply disinfecting to guard against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. He also said suspected SARS patients had first been removed to other hospitals.

About 2,200 people work at the 1,500-bed hospital, which is one of Beijing's largest medical facilities.

The World Health Organization is extending a travel advisory to cover Beijing, which now reports 39 deaths from SARS out of 750 cases.

China, where the disease is thought to have originated, has the world's largest outbreak of SARS. 2,422 cases have been reported so far, and 110 people have died.

A Taipei hospital was also sealed Thursday, forcing more than 900 hospital workers into quarantine after the number of suspected SARS cases jumped by at least five to reach almost 40. The figure is the city's biggest single day increase.

Hong Kong quarantined another 30 households and 60 individuals exposed to SARS, as the death toll rose by four to reach 109 on Thursday. In total, the territory has 1,488 SARS cases.

Margaret Chan, Hong Kong's Director of Health, says a WHO official on Thursday began studies on buildings where some of the worst contaminations have occurred.

"It is a landmark study to help us to understand the various situations where outbreaks occur, like in the hospital setting, in a residential building setting, in a hotel. All in all, these buildings are different."

Singapore on Thursday sought to double the penalties for people violating their quarantine, and hospitals in Malaysia and Thailand were monitoring new suspected SARS cases.

The disease, which leads to serious pneumonia, has killed at least 251 people and infected more than 4,400 people worldwide.