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Chinese Farmers Restive Over SARS; Hong Kong Seeks Lifting of Travel Advisory - 2003-05-05

Chinese farmers attacked a government building where six people were quarantined after returning from areas infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. And in Hong Kong, the city's leader says he hopes the World Health Organization lifts its travel advisory as the number of new cases continues to fall.

Local media reported on Monday that dozens of farmers in China's Zhejiang Province attacked government offices because a dormitory had been converted into a SARS quarantine center.

Village residents had been protesting outside the building for several days when the violence broke out a few days ago.

Six people were quarantined in the town after returning from Beijing, but none have shown SARS symptoms.

China's SARS outbreak continues to spread despite government measures to quarantine about 16,000 people. Nationwide, there were 160 new cases and nine deaths on Monday. SARS has infected nearly 4,300 people in China, and 206 have died from the disease.

Hong Kong, which has 1,637 SARS cases, reported eight new victims on Monday. It was the second day in a row in which there were fewer than 10 new cases. Three deaths brought the toll to 187.

The territory's leader, Tung Chee-hwa, said Monday that he thinks the World Health Organization travel advisory on Hong Kong will be lifted if the number of new cases continues to decline.

"We are pleased that the daily SARS cases, the number have been reduced to single digits. In the coming weeks we will begin discussion in earnest with WHO. The hope is eventually to persuade WHO to lift the travel advisory against us," Mr. Tung said.

In March, the WHO issued an advisory warning people to avoid traveling to Hong Kong, as well as parts of China, Singapore and Vietnam, which are among the places hardest hit by SARS. As a result, Hong Kong's tourism industry nearly ground to a halt, as travelers avoided the city.

The WHO released results late Sunday confirming that the virus suspected of causing SARS can live for hours and in some cases days in human fecal matter.

The findings support a theory that the disease spread through the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong in contaminated sewage. The WHO says research into the cause of the Amoy Gardens outbreak will influence any decision on the travel advisory.

In Singapore, there have been no new SARS cases in the past few days, renewing hope the outbreak there has been contained. On Monday, about 2,000 vendors returned to work at a Singapore wholesale market after more than a week of quarantine.

Around the world, SARS has infected at least 6,500 people, of whom more than 450 have died. The disease causes a serious pneumonia.