Hong Kong/Beijing, April 15 (Reuters): Hong Kong reported a record nine SARS deaths in a day today, including its youngest victim to date, as the Chinese capital of Beijing at last woke up to a virus creeping into its hinterland.
US and Canadian scientists said they had independently mapped the genome of the new virus blamed for causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), raising hopes a test could be developed so treatment can be given as soon as possible.
But with airlines cancelling flights, tourists staying at home and shops and restaurants empty in SARS hotspots like Hong Kong and Singapore, Asian governments are facing their greatest challenge since the 1997-98 regional economic crisis. The Standard & Poors Rating agency said the impact would cut 0.6 per cent to 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product in Hong Kong. Singapore’s GDP could be 0.4-2 per cent lower and China’s could lose up to 0.5 per cent.
Carried around the world by travellers after first appearing in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the virus has infected 3,300 people and killed 144 in more than 20 countries.
In Hong Kong, neighbouring Guangdong, the government said SARS had killed nine more people today and infected 42. The youngest of today’s victims was a 32-year-old woman, who died in Hong Kong. “I think during the last couple of days, our concerns remain the number of deaths and of the people who died some of them were rather young,” hospital authority acting chief executive Ko Wing-man told a news conference. The dead also included a pregnant woman.
Ko said the treatment used in Hong Kong now — a mix of anti-viral drugs and steroids — had seen good response in 80-90 per cent of patients. Of the 42 newly infected patients, 11 were health-care workers.
“We are experiencing a difficult time now because many patients have accumulated in public hospitals,” Ko said.
The latest figures bring the Hong Kong death toll to 56 and the number of cases to 1,232.
After months of hiding their SARS outbreak, China’s leaders started a highly publicised battle to halt its spread. Nearly half of the world’s cases have occurred in China, where 64 people have died and more than 1,430 have been infected. Premier Wen Jiabao called on “the whole nation” to “work closely together to win the fierce battle” against SARS, and ordered a campaign to scrub down planes, trains, buses, trucks, taxis and office blocks to kill the virus.
Fearful of a longer-term impact on Asia’s fastest growing economy, Wen and Communist Party boss Hu Jintao have appeared in major hospitals and met doctors on the front lines of the battle against SARS.
Posters have been plastered around city streets and subways calling on people to wash their hands after wiping their noses, cut down on drinking and smoking and keep face masks handy.