Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) can still be contained and eliminated, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted yesterday after China's premier described Beijing's crisis as grave and warned officials to work hard to fight the disease or be punished.
Strict measures have put more than 25,000 people in quarantine across China where news slowly emerged of more protests by those fearful that SARS patients at local hospitals will infect their communities.
New deaths in China and Hong Kong pushed the worldwide death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome to at least 479 people. More than 6,600 have been infected.
In Brussels, European health ministers met in an emergency session to standardize anti-SARS measures across the continent, which has reported 33 probable cases, but no deaths.
"We have a window of opportunity. We still can contain the first new disease of this century and make it go away," Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO director-general, said at the meeting.
Doctors in Hong Kong say they have helped some SARS patients survive by administering a serum that contains antibodies to the virus obtained from patients who have recovered.
"This treatment has only been applied to those critically ill patients when everything else fails," said Janet Chow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
China remains worst-hit by the respiratory illness, reporting 138 more cases and eight new fatalities yesterday, raising its death toll to 214.
Hong Kong said it had six more dead -- pushing its tally to 193. However, only nine new cases of infection were reported in the former British colony, adding to hopes that the worst might be over there.
The Philippines said it had seven SARS cases, raising to 10 its infection total.
Media reports in Beijing quoted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (
Wen ordered officials at all levels to work hard against the illness or face harsh punishment, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"It is very important to do the job well in Beijing, which is the capital and the political and cultural center of the country," Wen was quoted as saying.
Beijing has about 2,000 cases of infection -- nearly half the county's total -- and 107 deaths.
To stop the spread of SARS, Beijing has closed schools, built a new 1,000-bed hospital on its outskirts and ordered travel restrictions.
In central China, protesters in Hujiayao village in Henan Province ransacked a hospital on Monday and Tuesday last week that had been designated as a SARS treatment center, destroying walls and fencing, said a local official.
"People were worried about being infected, because the hospital was close to the village," said the official, surnamed Li.
In the nearby city of Linzhou, a mob attacked a hospital and a disease-prevention office last Monday after hearing the two sites were to receive SARS patients, officials said.