SARS Sparks Protest in China, Who to Help Taiwan Battle Disease

To help Taiwan better combat SARS, the World Health Organization sent representatives to the island for the first time in 30 years, underlining the seriousness of its SARS outbreak.

And in a sign that the virus that causes SARS is more robust than previously thought, the WHO said Sunday the organism could survive outside the human body longer than previously thought.

China’s Health Ministry announced 160 additional SARS cases on Monday. China has now recorded 4,280 cases, the bulk of the world’s total.

In eastern China, at least 1,000 protesters on Monday surrounded a local government building where suspected SARS patients were being quarantined.

“They are furious because they don’t want the sick people so close to their homes,” an official at the Xiandie police station who gave her surname as Zhuang told Reuters. The rioting had halted but the villagers remained at the compound gate and police from the area had been dispatched to disperse the crowd, she said.

“They shouldn’t have hospitalized patients in the government building, which has no medical facilities and professional staff,” said a villager the Associated Press reached by telephone.

The riot in Zhejiang followed another large protest in Chagugang, a township 45 miles southeast of Beijing. Villagers there demonstrated against a plan to use an abandoned school to quarantine SARS patients.

Meanwhile, in a sign that politics was being put aside to combat the growing spread of SARS, two doctors from the WHO are in Taipei for a landmark 13-day visit approved by Chinese officials. Taiwan lost its WHO seat in 1972 after Beijing replaced Taipei at the United Nations. The island has lobbied repeatedly to rejoin the health body, but China, which regards self-governing Taiwan to be a breakaway province, has blocked its bid.

The number of probable SARS cases in Taiwan more than doubled from April 25 to May 2, when the number of cases reached 100.

While China and Taiwan struggled to contain SARS, there were signs the virus was being contained elsewhere in Asia.

Singapore, which has the world’s third-highest number of SARS deaths, has gone 48 hours without a new case. On Monday it reopened a major food market at the heart of a recent outbreak.

Hong Kong reported three more deaths Monday and eight new infections, the same figures as Sunday and the lowest since mid-March, reinforcing hopes that the virus is finally on the decline.

More encouraging news from Hong Kong came Sunday when Dr. Liu Shao-haei of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority said in a news conference that 12 former SARS patients who were suspected as having relapsed were in fact ill with other ailments.

In a report that could shed light on how SARS spreads, the WHO said on its Web site Sunday that the virus could live up to four days in the waste from patients with diarrhea. But standard disinfectants such as chlorine bleach killed the virus in five minutes, the WHO found.

The research adds weight to the theory that leaky sewage pipes may have been the source of infection in a particularly severe outbreak at a Hong Kong apartment complex, where more than 300 people became ill.

Dr. Klaus Stohr, the WHO’s chief SARS scientist, told the Associated Press that discovering that the virus can survive in feces at room temperature for as long as four days was “the most exciting, or perhaps disturbing, finding” from the research.

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