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Cases drop in open China, HK schools re-open

Beijing, May 19 (Reuters): China reported today its lowest batch of SARS cases since coming clean with its numbers and children went back to school in Hong Kong as life returned to normal in the territory, hit hard by the deadly virus.

But Taiwan’s healthcare system came under further strain after a SARS-hit hospital said 124 medical staff had quit for fear of catching a virus that has no vaccine and which has put scores of doctors and nurses under quarantine on the island.

China reported just 12 new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the 24 hours to 0200 GMT today, the smallest rise since April 16 — four days before officials admitted a SARS cover-up and began reporting more openly. But Daniel Chin, leader of a World Health Organisation team in the city, said health officials had informed the WHO that doctors were under-reporting many cases of suspected sufferers with milder symptoms.

The steep slide in new SARS cases the last two weeks has defused panic in Beijing, helped send millions of people back to work and school. Last month, rioting broke out in several places in the country over the construction of SARS facilities.

A Chinese court has sentenced six people to up to five years in prison for rioting and ransacking a hotel designated to become a quarantine station for SARS suspects.

China still has more than 2,000 suspected SARS cases — more than 1,200 of them in Beijing. The country has been at the epicentre of global outbreaks of a disease that has killed 642 people and infected 7,860 across the world.

A spokeswoman at Taiwan’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second biggest city, said 124 medical workers quit in the past week, after scores of doctors, nurses and patients were infected with SARS. “There is a shortage of manpower and we’re working overtime,” said one Chang Gung nurse who resigned.

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