| A woman flies a kite on the Great Wall at Badaling, 80 km from Beijing. (AFP)
Hong Kong/Toronto, May 24 (Reuters): SARS came back to haunt Canada with five new possible cases as Hong Kong today reported no new daily infections for the first time since the outbreak hit in March.
The new cluster of potential Canadian cases, linked to two hospitals in the Toronto area, came just over a week after the WHO said Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was no longer spreading in Canada.
At a press conference late yesterday, Canadian health officials said at least 20 more people may have been exposed to SARS after visiting the hospitals where five new potential cases emerged in the previous 24 hours. They added they were looking into two earlier deaths to determine whether they were caused by the disease.
Canada is the only place outside Asia where people have died from SARS, with 24 known deaths in the Toronto area. The illness, which started in China and was spread by travellers, has killed nearly 700 people, most of them in China and Hong Kong.
WHO withdrew its travel warning on Hong Kong and the neighbouring southern Chinese province of Guangdong yesterday, saying outbreaks of SARS there were under control.
Hong Kong financial secretary Antony Leung joined revellers in the trendy Lan Kwai Fong bar district to celebrate last night. “At least business travellers will come back,” said cabbie Cheung Hon-yiu today. “Last night, it took me about four hours to get a customer at the airport.”
The government said today it had suspended the import of civet meat, a day after a top Hong Kong scientist said it was likely the SARS virus had jumped to humans from the cat-like animal.
Civet cats, considered a delicacy by many people in southern China, belong to a large group of mostly nocturnal mammals that also includes the mongoose. Most civets have cat-like bodies, long tails and weasel-like faces.
Guangdong, where the outbreak is believed to have started in November, also welcomed the lifting of the travel warning, but said it was too early to relax.
”Although Guangdong has effectively controlled the epidemic and attained temporary results, we absolutely cannot lower our guard, cannot slacken,” Xinhua news agency quoted governor Huang Huahua as saying.
Hong Kong has had 1,724 SARS cases and 262 deaths, second only to China which has had more than 5,000 cases and 308 deaths, including five reported on Saturday.
Hong Kong reported two new deaths on Saturday, but no new cases.
Taiwan reported 10 new probable SARS cases, bringing the total to 548, the third highest in the world.
But in a sign how the disease has spooked the whole region, police in Malaysia have suspended alcohol breathalyser tests to protect police and motorists from SARS, the New Straits Times reported on Saturday.
Malaysia has reported eight cases of SARS, including two deaths.