Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Kaohsiung center of new SARS fears

UNCERTAINTY Dozens of staff members at a hospital near the city are in quarantine, some with symptoms of SARS, but officials say they are not sure of the source

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The focus of the nation's battle against SARS turned to Kaohsiung yesterday, as fears grew that the deadly disease had spread through a major hospital near the city.

Meanwhile, one more person died of the disease yesterday, although the Center for Disease Control revised the total number of deaths down to 25, saying some fatalities reported earlier had not been confirmed. Probable case rose 21 to 228, while suspected cases rose 18 to 270.

The Cabinet's anti-SARS task force yesterday sent a special team to the south of the country to investigate the situation at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, where some members of staff began showing symptoms of SARS earlier this month.

As of yesterday, 110 staff members at the hospital were in isolation, including 11 with SARS-like symptoms. Five of the 11 have been identified as probable SARS cases.

However, Chen Chao-long (陳肇隆), superintendent of the hospital, said he could not confirm that the hospital was the source of all the infections.

"We are waiting for experts to find out the real sources of the infections," Chen said.

The hospital is located on the border between Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County, and the health bureaus of both jurisdictions have been monitoring the situation.

Yesterday morning, Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) convened an emergency meeting to discuss the epidemic with local medical experts and health officials.

"We don't rule out the possibility of infections within the hospital," Lin Li-jen (林立人), director of Kaohsiung County Government's health bureau, told the media after the meeting.

Lin said, however, that his bureau had not yet considered shutting down any part of the hospital.

New regulation

* From today, passengers on trains will have to wear a mask during their entire journey. The Taiwan Railway Administration will conduct random checks and those not wearing masks will be fined between NT$600 and NT$6,000.

Source: Taiwan Railway Administration

He nevertheless urged people who had visited certain floors of the hospital between April 26 and Sunday to take their temperatures and report to health authorities if they had a fever.

Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), predicted yesterday that the next week would be key in judging whether the outbreak was under control.

"We hope the central government will distribute SARS testing kits imported from the US to Kaohsiung City to effectively identify those who have the disease," Hsieh said.

Chang Gung is not the only hospital in the city with SARS cases.

Two members of staff at Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital are in isolation with SARS symptoms. A Kaohsiung dentist, whose source of infection remains unclear, died at the hospital after staying for a time at Chang Gung.

According to Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), head of the Cabinet's task force, the Ministry of National Defense will prepare two hospitals in the area, Kaohsiung Military General Hospital and Armed Forces Tsoying Hospital, to become special SARS treatment centers.

"There will be no room for negotiation with residents if local opposition occurs," Lee said at a press conference yesterday. "We will use public authority to dismiss any protests."

City officials urged residents to report any quarantine violations, offering NT$10,000 rewards for information.

City officials also said that 530,000 copies of SARS prevention pamphlets will be distributed to residents as soon as possible.

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