Airport security stepped up as flu bug infects 1,600 worldwide

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The Independent Online

Hong Kong health officials reported yesterday that 60 more people had fallen ill with a deadly flu-like disease, more than half of them in one apartment complex, pushing the number of infections worldwide past 1,600.

Hong Kong health officials reported yesterday that 60 more people had fallen ill with a deadly flu-like disease, more than half of them in one apartment complex, pushing the number of infections worldwide past 1,600.

Hong Kong and Singapore each reported one new death from severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), bringing the global toll to at least 57.

Thailand and Singapore stepped up monitoring at airports, while the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggested postponing nonessential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi in Vietnam.

American experts warned that no treatment tested against Sars had been effective. Singapore's Health Minister, Lim Hng Kiang, said the disease was more contagious than previously thought and some people could transmit it to as many as 30 or 40 others.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern at the increasing spread of the disease in Hong Kong, where new Sars cases have picked up pace in the past few days. Hong Kong has been hit the hardest after mainland China, which has reported some 800 cases and 34 deaths. The WHO says the disease is spreading via international travellers and nations across Asia are fighting to contain it.

Hong Kong has now reported 530 cases of Sars, although officials also noted that 60 patients had recovered and been discharged. A 74-year-old woman with a history of health problems became Hong Kong's 13th fatality yesterday.

Thirty-six of the new cases came from the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, where a victim recently spread the disease, the Health Department said. Some frightened residents have moved out and medical teams have gone through the apartments to check for Sars, while some minibus drivers are refusing to stop there. Between 110 and 120 Sars cases are known to have originated at Amoy Gardens.

Taiwan's premier, Yu Shyi-kun, urged citizens yesterday to postpone visits to China for the traditional Ching Ming tomb-sweeping festival, as the island announced its 13th Sars case. Thousands of Taiwanese had been expected to fly to China this week to worship ancestors and sweep their tombs in the festival on Saturday.

Thailand stepped up monitoring at airports and border checkpoints yesterday. About a dozen visitors were quarantined but most were quickly released when tests showed they did not have Sars. The new precautions followed the death in a Thai hospital of an Italian WHO expert on communicable diseases who identified the Sars outbreak in Hanoi. He was being treated after arriving from Vietnam.

Singapore has reported 91 cases, 12 of whom were in a critical condition.

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