The U.S. health secretary is warning that the SARS virus could kill people all over the world later this year even if it levels off for the moment. Tommy Thompson says there are likely to be deaths from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in both Europe and the United States in the months ahead.
Emerging from a meeting with members of the European Parliament, Mr. Thompson told reporters he is not confident that the United States and Europe can avoid deaths from SARS.
The disease has already killed hundreds of people and infected thousands, mainly in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There have also been some deaths in Canada.
But Mr. Thompson says SARS is not going to go away. He said U.S. health officials believe that, even if it levels off now, it may come back in the last quarter of the year.
If that is the case, he adds, there will be deaths all over the world.
The U.S. health secretary added to his gloomy prediction a warning to airlines that they should brace for more bad news.
SARS has hit the world airline industry hard, just when it was trying to crawl out of a slump caused by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The International Air Transport Association, which represents most of the world's airlines, recently predicted that carriers could lose another $10 billion this year.
Mr. Thompson said his department is obliged to issue travel warnings for American citizens to areas affected by the SARS epidemic despite the effect such measures may have on the airlines.
The U.S. health secretary was in Brussels to lobby European Union officials for more money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. He said a fund set up for that purpose last year by the world's eight leading industrialized countries faces a shortage of one billion dollars. Mr. Thompson said the private as well as the public sector should contribute more money to the fund.