Thu, May 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Beijing mayor warns of shortage of hospital beds

REUTERS , BEIJING AND TORONTO

Beijing said yesterday the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus threatened to overwhelm hospitals and it was acting to quell panic, but Toronto was jubilant after the WHO ended a warning against travel to Canada's financial capital.

Beijing's acting mayor Wang Qishan said the next week would be critical in determining whether the spread of the pneumonia-like SARS was being curbed.

A spike in the number of cases of SARS in the Chinese capital has sparked widespread fear and in some areas panic-buying of medicines and staple foods, as residents stock up to wait out the peak of SARS at home.

"As the panic of the public has not yet been alleviated, a great deal of work is needed to ensure social stability," Wang told foreign journalists. "Due to a shortage of beds at designated hospitals, not all suspected SARS patients can be hospitalized in a timely manner."

He said the government is expanding the number of hospitals handling the disease to more than a dozen.

Beijing is the hardest-hit area in the world, reporting well over 100 new SARS infections a day and about 1,400 cases with 75 deaths.

The number of infections has shot up from 37 since China began reporting more complete figures on April 20.

Beijing has already closed schools and theatres and put nearly 10,000 people under quarantine. Wang vowed to take decisive steps to contain the disease.

Some Shanghai districts begun imposing a 14-day quarantine order on visitors from SARS-hit areas, including Beijing.

Hong Kong said yesterday that SARS had killed seven more people, bringing the death toll to 157 with a total of 1,589 cases, second only to mainland China on both counts.

SARS has infected nearly six thousand people in 29 countries, killing at least 372 around the world. Scientists say it is mainly passed by droplets spread through sneezing and coughing.

India has reported nine new SARS cases, taking its total number of people infected by the virus to at least 19 since mid-April, but no one has died.

Canada has promised tougher steps to halt the spread of the disease, including at its airports.

"We are delighted with the World Health Organization's latest decision," Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement said.

"And we certainly know that our vigilance must not stop," he added.

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