The head of the Cabinet's SARS task force said yesterday that the transmission of SARS in the country's hospitals was more serious than previously thought following the discovery of SARS clusters at more of the nation's hospitals.
"The committee had to re-evaluate the whole SARS transmission situation here, as hospital infections are more serious than expected," said Lee Ming-liang (
"Last week I assumed that SARS infections could be gradually brought under control, but given the current hospital infections, I have to modify my assumption," he said. "The rate of hospital transmission is in an urgent state. Preventing hospital transmission and community transmission are the two priorities in current anti-SARS work."
The Center for Disease Control reported 26 more probable cases yesterday, the highest daily total since the epidemic reached the country.
A total of 264 probable cases have been reported and 281 suspected cases. A total of 34 deaths have reported to the WHO.
Lee said yesterday that starting next week, only information of SARS probable cases and deaths will be made public in a bid to be consistent with the WHO's classifications.
Lee's statements came in response to a cluster of SARS infections that appeared on Wednesday at National Taiwan University Hospital and Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
The Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei yesterday also reported that seven of its staff members may have contracted the disease.
Lee said that SARS could only be contained with the full cooperation of the public, who should not withhold their medical histories to hospitals when seeking treatment.
"Many patients did not fully disclose their SARS-related medical histories to doctors, who in some cases performed intubation on patients without knowing that the people been exposed to SARS," Lee said yesterday.
Lee said that based on evaluations by medical experts, there was still no need to seal off Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
"It hasn't reached the point where the hospital needs to be sealed, but we don't rule out the possibility," Lee said, adding that Taiwanese and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts had been consulted.
Lee said the contingency plan for the hospital included suspending services at the emergency room and for outpatients, while adding a SARS emergency care service.
In addition, all the patients and their relatives as well as the medical personnel would undergo compulsory quarantine.
A further measure would be to evacuate as many inpatients as possible. Patients too sick to be moved would be kept in a ward on the hospital's 10th floor. Suspected SARS patients would be isolated on the 11th and 12th floors, and probable cases on the 13th floor.
The task force yesterday also announced that 10 hospitals across the country would be given the responsibility of accepting suspected SARS patients.
The 10 hospitals would form a second line of treatment for possible SARS patients, with local clinics diagnosing initial symptoms of the disease and large hospitals treating probable cases.
Most of the 10 hospitals are county-level or municipal hospitals and military hospitals, the task force said.
"It has been a bad habit of Taiwanese people to do hospital shopping. That is why the National Taiwan University Hospital emergency room had to be shut down because it was overloaded," said Chang Hong-jen (