Beijing/Taipei, May 17 (Reuters): The World Health Organisation said today some confused Chinese doctors were under-reporting SARS infections, as Taiwan announced a record one-day rise in cases of the deadly virus.
Singapore may be just a day away from being declared SARS-free and the WHO expressed confidence that Hong Kong too had the virus under control, but 34 new infections in Taiwan took the global tally to at least 7,770, with 610 deaths.
The WHO said it was still too early to say if China — the worst hit country with 282 deaths and 5,209 cases — was past its peak of SARS cases, because doctors were not fully reporting cases because of misunderstanding about the symptoms. The WHO criticised China in April for dramatically under-reporting cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the world’s most populous country responded by sacking its health minister and the mayor of Beijing for negligence.
After visits by WHO officials to Beijing hospitals, the UN health agency said it was concerned that some cases were being excluded because patients had no known contact with a SARS victim or because they had mild symptoms that cleared up.
“They fit the case definition but because they get better in a few days they are not seen as probable cases,” Daniel Chin, the head of the WHO’s Beijing team of SARS experts, said.
The patients were being sent home or moved out of isolation wards to general wards, where they could infect others, he said.
“Clinicians are making this decision because there’s an assumption that SARS patients must be very sick. But there’s a spectrum of severity for SARS,” Chin said.
The WHO warned travellers to avoid China’s Hebei province, extending its travel advice because of the scale of the SARS outbreak in the region. It already recommends that people consider postponing all but essential travel to several areas of China, namely Beijing, Guandong, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Tianjin.
Taiwan, the third worst affected area after mainland China and Hong Kong, said today its cases had jumped by 34 to 308. The death toll stood at 35.
“If the spread of SARS lasts for several more months, I don’t know if we can stand it,” said Wu Ah-chung, a restaurant chef. With patrons too scared to dine out, he said, sales had fallen by a third.
Such reluctance to go out has hit Asian economies hard.