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SARS Outbreak Appears to be Getting Worse in Taiwan


The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome appears to be worsening in Taiwan, while the situation in Singapore and Hong Kong is getting significantly better.

Taiwan announced on Saturday its biggest-ever one-day increase in new cases of SARS: 34 infections, bringing Taiwan's total to 308. The island's death toll from SARS remains unchanged at 37.

While the overall numbers are not particularly high, the island's health minister resigned Friday for failing to curb the disease, and health officials are predicting the outbreak will get worse before it improves.

The picture is very different in Singapore, which is just a day away from having its SARS outbreak declared under control by the World Health Organization. Singapore health officials say an outbreak of SARS-like cases at a mental institution earlier this week has proven to be nothing more than standard influenza.

That means it has been 19 days since a new SARS case was reported on the island state. If the situation remains the same on Sunday, Singapore will have met the WHO's guideline for having brought the disease under control: no new cases over a 20 day period.

The WHO says the SARS outbreak also appears to be largely under control in Hong Kong, the second hardest-hit region after Mainland China. Saturday's report of five deaths and four new infections means the daily count of new cases has been below ten for two straight weeks.

The WHO's head of communicable diseases says he thinks there will soon be no new cases of the disease in Hong Kong at all.

The WHO advised against travel to Hong Kong in early April, and the drop in visitors since then has severely affected the territory's economy. A team of Hong Kong officials flew to Geneva Saturday to try to convince the WHO to lift the travel advisory. Hong Kong has reported a total of 243 deaths and more than 1,700 infections.

On a less positive note, WHO officials are warning that SARS numbers coming out of Beijing may not be telling the whole story. They say a decline in the daily number of new SARS cases may be due to misdiagnosis, rather than to an actual improvement in the situation.

A WHO doctor in Beijing says medical workers there may be excluding patients with milder symptoms from the overall SARS count. He suggests that the miscount is due to confusion over exactly what constitutes a SARS infection, and is not a deliberate effort to conceal the truth.

China on Saturday reported 28 new SARS cases and seven more deaths, raising the cumulative totals for China to 282 deaths and more than 5,200 infections.

Worldwide, SARS has killed more than 600 people and more than 7,700 are known to be infected, mostly in East Asia.