| A virologist shows a sample of a test liquid to verify the SARS virus in a Hamburg laboratory. (Reuters)
Beijing/Toronto, April 30 (Reuters): Beijing said today the SARS virus threatened to overwhelm hospitals and it was acting to quell panic, but Toronto was jubilant after the WHO ended a warning against travel to Canada’s financial capital.
Beijing’s acting mayor Wang Qishan said the next week would be critical in determining whether the spread of the pneumonia-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was being curbed.
A spike in the number of cases of SARS in the Chinese capital has sparked widespread fear and in some areas panic-buying of medicines and staple foods, as residents stock up to wait out the peak of SARS at home.
“As the panic of the public has not yet been alleviated, a great deal of work is needed to ensure social stability,” Wang said. “Due to a shortage of beds at designated hospitals, not all suspected SARS patients can be hospitalised in a timely manner,” he said, adding that the government is expanding the number of hospitals handling the disease to more than a dozen.
Beijing is the hardest-hit area in the world, reporting well over 100 new SARS infections a day and about 1,400 cases with 75 deaths. The number of infections has shot up from 37 since China began reporting more complete figures on April 20.
Beijing has already closed schools and theatres and put nearly 10,000 people under quarantine. Wang vowed to take decisive steps to contain the disease.
Some Shanghai districts begun imposing a 14-day quarantine order on visitors from SARS-hit areas, including Beijing. China’s commercial hub has also announced the closure of its stock exchange from May 1 to May 9 as the government tries to keep SARS out of packed dealing rooms. State media said the value of deals at China’s top trade fair had slumped to a quarter of previous levels — the worst showing in 15 years.
Taiwan said today two more people had died of SARS and the number of probable and suspected cases jumped sharply to 174 from 151, as it sealed off another hospital.
Asian leaders, meeting in Bangkok yesterday, adopted measures to isolate and control SARS outbreaks, including rigorous screening of international travellers, exchange of research, and regular reports about outbreaks.
Canada, the only country outside Asia where people have died of the virus that has no cure, also promised tougher steps, including screening at its airports.
“We are delighted with the WHO’s latest decision,” Ontario health minister Tony Clement said. “And we certainly know that our vigilance must not stop.” The original WHO decision advising against travel to Toronto aroused howls of protest in Canada. But health officials expect travellers to continue spreading the scourge in an increasingly interconnected world and say the disease — and others like it — is likely to become endemic.