Washington Post



Taiwan Reports Rise in SARS

By Shu Shin Luh
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 3, 2003

TAIPEI, Taiwan, May 2 -- Taiwan today reported a sharp increase in the number of SARS cases and deaths, dashing hopes that the outbreak of the respiratory illness had been contained.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, said that it was concerned about reports that some patients in Hong Kong may have suffered relapses and that some seemingly healthy people might be infecting others with the SARS virus.

Worldwide, there have been 6,054 reported cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome and 417 deaths. China reported 176 new cases today and 11 additional deaths, according to WHO. China has reported 3,799 cases and 181 deaths from the epidemic since the virus was first detected in Guangdong province in November.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said today "the masses should be mobilized . . . to wage a people's war against the epidemic," according to the New China News Agency.

Eight people have died in Taiwan and 100 are infected, double the toll last week, and 384 additional cases are being investigated, the Taiwan Center for Disease Control reported.

The government has quarantined more than 6,000 people who had close contact with SARS patients. It has stopped issuing visas for visitors from Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore, while enforcing a 10-day quarantine on other travelers arriving from those SARS-stricken areas.

Before the new cases reported this week, the disease had been considered fairly well controlled in Taiwan. But over the weekend the government reported the death of a man who contracted the disease through his brother, a resident of the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong, where scores of people were infected.

So far, health officials said, most SARS-related deaths have been a result of infections at two Taipei medical facilities, Hoping Municipal Hospital and Jen-Chi Hospital, which have been shut down for a 14-day quarantine period.

On Thursday, officials accused the hospitals' administrators of delaying reports on suspected SARS patients and transferring patients to other hospitals, further spreading the disease.

Government spokesman Lin Chia-lung said negligent hospitals and medical personnel will "face the potential of having their licenses suspended, being fined or maybe jail time."

There were signs of tension over the outbreak around Taiwan. Residents in the southern port city of Kaohsiung stopped people from entering medical clinics. Hundreds of villagers staged a one-day demonstration to block the entrance to a waste management plant in Yunlin County in southwestern Taiwan. The villagers expressed concern that SARS would spread to their communities in medical waste transported from a SARS-infected hospital in Taipei.

WHO officials said today they were awaiting details from Hong Kong on possible relapses and reports of patients who show no symptoms of SARS but are "shedding" the virus. If either report is true, it would make it more difficult to prevent outbreaks of disease.

"We don't yet have the data from the Chinese in Hong Kong as to exactly what has happened," said David L. Heymann, executive director of WHO's communicable diseases program. WHO was organizing a video conference on Monday to explore the issue, Heymann said in a teleconference from Geneva.

Taiwan has tried to leverage the SARS epidemic to renew its bid to gain observer status in WHO, an attempt vigorously blocked in the past by the Chinese government because it considers Taiwan part of China. A delegation of legislators and government officials are touring Europe to publicize their effort. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) expressed his support for Taiwan's WHO bid during a visit here last month.

The flulike illness has damaged Taiwan's already troubled economy, especially in the tourism and manufacturing sectors, officials said. Ruling Democratic Progressive Party legislators recently reached a compromise with opposition politicians to create a $1.4 billion emergency fund to combat the SARS outbreak.

Staff writer Rob Stein in Washington contributed to this report.