Background: Coping With SARS
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RAY SUAREZ: Today’s announcement that the death rate from SARS is rising adds to the continuing questions about the disease that first emerged about six weeks ago. The deadly virus has prompted numerous medical, legal, ethical and economic issues. China was the breeding ground, but from there, the disease has spread around the world. More than 7,000 cases have now been reported in more than 25 countries. And the death toll has surpassed 500.
The disease has put global health preparedness to the test, as doctors and health officials from disparate cultures struggle to identify, treat and contain the disease. Airport workers have been trained to spot SARS symptoms and check temperatures. Healthcare workers struggling to curb the rapid spread of the virus have contracted it themselves in China, Canada and elsewhere. In Toronto, officials urged people with symptoms to isolate themselves.
DR. JAMES YOUNG: If you are feeling ill or have a fever, do not go to work, do not go to school, do not go out in the community.
RAY SUAREZ: In China, thousands have been quarantined and entire apartment complexes have been locked down. The 240 residents of this Hong Kong building were sent to quarantine camps when officials feared that the isolation of the 33-story building hadn’t stopped the spread of the disease. In Taiwan, where the capital is now on the travel-advisory list, train travelers must wear masks and temperatures are being taken at stations. In the U.S., no one has died of SARS, and the disease has been mostly contained. Still, visitors from countries with SARS are screened at airports and given cards with a list of SARS symptoms.
This week, the University of California at Berkeley announced it won’t allow students from SARS-affected areas to participate in summer programs. SARS has had an economic impact, too, rocking Asian markets and rattling the travel and tourism industry. During the first two weeks in April, the number of visitors to Singapore dropped 61 percent. A World Health Organization warning against all nonessential travel to Toronto last month caused many travelers to cancel conventions and trips. The advisory has since been lifted. Economists predict that SARS- related losses will total in the tens of billions of dollars worldwide.
TOM CROUCH, Asian Development Bank: The impact of SARS, very, very difficult to estimate, but, overall, for the Asia and the pacific, our estimates are that maybe a decline in GDP for the regions as a whole of 0.1 to 0.2 percent
RAY SUAREZ: Russian officials have been conducting SARS training drills. Meanwhile, today they halted reservations on flights to Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. And the Russians also warned they may ban all flights to affected areas. The World Health Organization plans to hold a meeting in Switzerland next month to discuss how to control the SARS virus.