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China Sets Up Roadblocks to Contain SARS - 2003-04-25

China is setting up roadblocks around major cities to check people for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. In Taiwan, angry health workers protested their confinement in a hospital treating SARS patients. And Singapore is proposing to jail people who break the SARS quarantine.

Checkpoints are appearing on roads around Beijing and Shanghai, as the Chinese government attempts to contain the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Beijing residents say only a few cars were being allowed through cordons set up on roads leading out of the city Friday.

Thousands of residents who were possibly exposed to the disease have been quarantined. Beijing's municipal government warned it would use force, if necessary, to make people comply with the order, and said those breaking the quarantine would face up to seven years in prison.

A team of World Health Organization experts, meanwhile, briefed the Shanghai government on its findings, after concluding an investigation there on Friday.

Shanghai, China's largest city, has so far reported few SARS cases, raising suspicion that the city is covering up the true extent of the disease there, as Beijing did until recently. Checkpoints were set up on roads leading into Shanghai Friday, to watch for people with suspicious symptoms. In Taiwan, more than 900 doctors and nurses were confined to a Taipei hospital, where some 40 patients out of 200 are suspected of having SARS. The medical staff shouted at police surrounding the hospital, and hung banners out of hospital windows calling the quarantine a "bad policy."

Singapore's parliament on Friday moved to grant the Health Ministry sweeping powers to enforce rules aimed at containing the disease. Proposed measures include jail without trial for those who break quarantine, and the right to seize documents from companies, in order to track down employees violating isolation orders.

Chew Suok Kai, Singapore's deputy director of medical services, said the amendments to the health laws were crucial to the fight to contain SARS. "We started with a hospital infection, similar to the experience in Hong Kong," he said. "We pick up the people early, and prevent them from spreading the infection out."

The Hospital Authority in Hong Kong has been accused of not providing adequate protective gear to health care workers treating SARS patients. SARS has afflicted 1,500 people in the city, and almost a third have been medical staff.

Health experts in Manila confirmed that a man who died Thursday had caught SARS from his daughter, a nurse who had worked in Canada. The daughter died shortly after arriving in the Philippines. The man had the country's first locally transmitted case of SARS.

Globally, the disease has infected 4400 people and killed more than 260.

Delegates from a number of Asian nations gathered in Malaysia on Friday to discuss the fight against SARS.