Asian officials at an emergency meeting in Bangkok have announced wide-ranging steps aimed at controlling the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS. The highly infectious disease has killed at least 354 people worldwide and sickened more that 5,300 people in 20, mostly Asian countries. VOA-TV?s Chris Simkins has more on the story.

Leaders from 11 Asian nations met to discuss SARS and the disastrous effects the deadly virus is having on regional economies. The leaders agreed to take more stringent measures to control and contain the flu-like virus. Across Asia tougher measures are being put in place to combat SARS. At many airports health workers are now checking arriving and departing passengers for signs of the virus.

In Singapore, where 23 people have died from SARS, the government is taking unprecedented steps. Banning all hospital visits and monitoring quarantined patients with computer camera. Singapore?s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong says people who break the quarantine will face a 5,000 dollar fine or six months in jail.

?Like it or not, people understand fines.?

Ang Hock Seng, whose father is in the hospital, says he does not mind the ban and believes it is necessary for public safety.

ANG HOCK SENG (translated)
?The measure is for everyone?s good. We have no choice; we have to follow the law. If we can?t visit, so be it. We have to accept it for safety, to prevent the virus from spreading.?

The World Health Organization says the aggressive action against the spread of the disease is starting to pay off. While new SARS cases have peaked in many places international health officials fear the situation is worsening in China. The government there announced nine deaths and 200 new infections on Tuesday.

In Beijing, all public entertainment venues remained shut down for a second day. Many buildings, whole city blocks, and even three hospitals have been closed off. Nearly 10,000 people who might have been exposed to the virus are under quarantine. China's official media also announced restrictions on the travel of migrant workers.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Canada, where 23 people have died from SARS, the World Health Organization said the worst of the outbreak appeared over and moved to lift its warning against non-urgent travel to the city.