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SARS Travel Advisory Expanded to Include All of Taiwan

The U.N. health agency said it expanded the advisory — which was issued on May 8 and originally included only the capital city — because the virus had spread beyond Taipei’s limits.

“As a result of ongoing assessments as to the nature of outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], WHO is now recommending … people planning to travel to Taiwan province, China, postpone all but essential travel,” the U.N. agency said in a statement.

With 418 cases and 52 deaths as of Wednesday, Taiwan has the world’s third-highest SARS toll after China and Hong Kong.

The WHO is also advising against all nonessential travel to Hong Kong and large parts of China, including the capital, Beijing.

Taiwanese health officials said the recent dramatic rise in the number of SARS infections came because the disease hit the island later than China and Hong Kong, where the numbers of new cases have been falling. Taiwan is 100 miles east of China’s southern coast.

Su Yi-jen, chief of the island’s Center for Disease Control, warned that SARS was spreading in southern Taiwan.

“The coming week could see a peak in SARS cases in the south,” he said.

Su added that if the disease could be contained within the hospitals, officials could bring SARS under control within two weeks in the south.

SARS outbreaks last month closed two hospitals in Taipei. But the focus has since shifted to the southern city of Kaohsiung — home to one of the world’s busiest container ports.

Taiwan fined two hospitals in Kaohsiung on Wednesday for allegedly covering up recent outbreaks, government spokesman Lin Chia-lung said.

The Taiwanese government said cover-ups by medical centers, doctors and patients who feared discrimination if they were found to have the disease had resulted in a slew of hospital infections that account for more than 90 percent of Taiwan’s SARS cases.

In Taipei, where thermometers and facemasks are now part of daily life, Mayor Ma Ying-jeou said residents with temperatures of over 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit would be urged to stay under home quarantine for 72 hours.

The hardest hit country, China, reported only two deaths on Wednesday — one of the lowest daily tolls since the disease was first reported there in November. It had 12 new infections.

The WHO is worried about a possible surge in new infections during China’s annual summer flood season as overloaded sewage systems back up. Experts said the SARS virus doesn’t appear to be transmitted by water, but can survive for days in feces.

SARS has killed close to 300 people on China’s mainland and infected more than 5,200.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his entourage are undergoing daily medical checkups to ensure they aren’t carrying the SARS virus when he meets Bush and other G-8 leaders next month in France.

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