China yesterday quarantined 10,000 more citizens in its desperate efforts to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as panic riots hit rural areas despite global successes in halting the spread of the virus.
Nine new deaths from SARS and 160 new cases were reported in China yesterday, bringing the death toll to 206 and the total cases to 4,280 in what remains the worst-affected country.
Hong Kong reported three more fatalities, the lowest single-day death toll since April 12, fuelling optimism that the outbreak may have peaked in the territory. The total deaths from the disease in Hong Kong now stand at 187.
Canada, meanwhile, reported just one new "probable" case of SARS on Sunday, bringing further hope that the outbreak in the country has been brought under control.
A World Health Organization (WHO) advisory against travel to Toronto was lifted last week but WHO advisories on travel to Hong Kong, Beijing and China's Guangdong and Shanxi provinces remain.
"We are pleased the daily SARS cases has to dropped to the single digits," Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) said, adding he hoped talks with the WHO would also lift the region's travel ban.
In the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, 10,000 people were quarantined in an effort to halt the spread of SARS, while villagers in two remote areas destroyed quarantine centers and beat up officials, a sign the disease was creating social instability across the country.
"Several people have been detained as a result of the incident," a police official in Yuhuan county in Zhejiang Province said.
In another incident, villagers rioted from April 25 to 28 in Linzhou city, Henan Province, ransacking a planned SARS quarantine center and other medical facilities, Zhou Dawei, a local Linzhou official said.
The Linzhou riot resulted in the sacking of the director of the city's health bureau Wang Songlin and the city's infectious diseases station head Wang Yuxi last Friday, Zhou said. At least 13 people were arrested following the incident.
In Beijing however, confidence in official government reports that SARS was being brought under control prompted many people to "prematurely" lower their guards against the virus, taking to once deserted streets.
"There's a lot more analysis that needs to be done, and we think it's premature to make that kind of assessment," said Mangai Balasegaram, the WHO's Beijing-based spokeswoman.
In another development yesterday, the official China Daily reported that most of Beijing's 80 reservoirs have been put under isolation to prevent the SARS virus from entering the city's water supply. It said swimming, fishing and other recreation activities had been halted in the latest measures enforced by the government to prevent the spread of SARS.
More than 15,000 people have been quarantined in the capital, where 103 people have died from the disease and 1,897 have been infected.
State media said up to 55 senior officials and hospital directors have also been sacked for failing to set up quarantine areas and impose regulations, while lower-level medical personnel were quitting over safety fears.
On the scientific front, new research has emerged which shows that the SARS virus is more resilient than first thought and can survive for weeks outside the human body.