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Taiwan Refuses SARS Help From China - 2003-05-25

Taiwan has refused a Chinese offer of help with the SARS outbreak, in an apparent reaction to Beijing's efforts to keep the island out of the World Health Organization.

Taiwan quickly rebuffed mainland China's offer on Sunday of protective suits, masks, and ambulances. Taiwan officials instead offered to help China with its own severe SARS problem.

The Chinese offer is widely perceived in Taiwan as a humiliation, after China blocked Taiwan last week from joining the World Health Organization for the seventh time.

Mainland China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and blocks any attempt by the island to join international organizations. WHO officials did not even visit Taiwan until May 3, after receiving approval from Beijing.

Taiwan blames China for its outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The disease was first found in southern China last year and has since spread throughout much of Asia and across the world.

Taiwan confirmed 22 new SARS cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 570. It also reported 12 more deaths, bringing the toll to 72.

China reported 16 new SARS cases and seven more deaths, most of them in Beijing. China has the highest SARS numbers in the world, more than 5,300 cases, with 315 deaths.

Hong Kong announced just one new SARS case and four new deaths on Sunday. That brings the death toll in Hong Kong to 266, along with 1,726 cases.

Hong Kong researchers say they will collect biological samples from civet cats, which they think is the source of the SARS virus. Civets are wild carnivores related to the mongoose, and are not true cats. They are found in southern China, including Hong Kong.

News of the linkage between SARS and civet cats is reportedly leading some Hong Kong residents to abandon their pet cats.

Rose Tang, with the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says the society is trying to prevent people from doing that. "We put out articles and lectures to tell people it is not related to domestic cats," she said. Researchers have found no evidence that domestic animals such as dogs and cats carry the SARS virus.

The civet is considered as a delicacy in southern China. Authorities in China are conducting an intensive search for civets in the country's animal markets.

SARS remains a public health issue of global concern. Health officials in Canada are monitoring 33 possible new infections in Toronto. They have put 500 people in quarantine, and say the number of new cases may grow in the coming days.

Worldwide, SARS has killed 719 people and infected more than 8,100.