| A couple in Hong Kong, where the death toll from the SARS outbreak has gone up to 121. (AFP)
Taipei, April 27 (Reuters): In the most drastic attempt yet to ward off SARS, Taiwan said today it would bar visitors from hot spots China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada, as the island reported its first death from the disease.
“Fighting the epidemic is like fighting a war. We face an invisible enemy,” Taiwan Premier Yu Shyi-kun told a news conference.
Taiwan residents returning from the four locations would be quarantined for 10 days to curb the flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has killed over three hundred people and infected thousands worldwide.
It has no known cure and has been carried to more than 20 countries by air travellers, triggering concern across the globe.
In London, Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said the outbreak could still be contained if countries tackled the epidemic seriously.
“I think we still have a window of opportunity,” Brundtland told BBC’s Breakfast with Frost programme. “We have a chance to do it now if we work together globally, across the countries, and do what is necessary to control the outbreak.” She defended a WHO advisory urging travellers to avoid Canada’s biggest city, Toronto — which has infuriated Canadian officials. Toronto recorded its 20th death in the battle against SARS and WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told Canada’s CBC television it would review Canada’s situation on Tuesday. “There is a chance the advisory could be changed,” he said.
Brundtland denied the WHO’s response to the SARS outbreak was excessive. “We are not going over the top,” she said. “We are doing what is prudent and necessary to control a new disease before it becomes global and constant as an added burden to humanity.”
Taiwan’s ban will hit some key trading partners, and the prospect has spurred Hong Kong to ask it to reconsider. “Taiwan should consider lifting such measures in the interest of facilitating commercial, tourism and other exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said.
Premier Yu said Taiwan would stop issuing visitor and resident visas to people from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.