Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Nation's SARS death toll passes 50

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government yesterday reported a record jump in SARS cases and deaths a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) listed Taiwan as the scene of the "world's most rapidly growing outbreak" of the disease.

The WHO said it would send more specialists to help the government, which reported more SARS cases from its own ranks yesterday, contain the outbreak.

Health authorities yesterday reported 39 probable SARS cases and 12 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 383 and the death toll to 52.

Officials said the big jump was partly because the figures covered a two-day period. Because some organs of the government were closed on Sunday, no new figures were released on Monday, the Center for Disease Control said.

Of the new cases, 35 were staff and patients at the Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Kaohsiung, 13 of which had been infected at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.

The Chang Gung Memorial Hospital closed down normal services at its children's hospital on Sunday after a nurse there developed a high fever. It shut down its main emergency room and the emergency room of the children's hospital on Friday.

The WHO said the large number of cases now being reported could be the result of a backlog of cases only now being recognized as SARS and from lapses in infection control, particularly in hospitals' emergency wards.

As a result of the deteriorating situation, the WHO said that it would soon send additional support staff here.

Two WHO medical experts have already visited the country to assist the government.

They provided guidance on screening people with fevers and on home quarantine.

One of the experts has left Taiwan, but the other, epidemiologist Cathy Roth, said that a WHO expert would arrive on Saturday and another a week later.

Despite the worsening situation here, the WHO still expressed optimism.

The "WHO is confident that Taiwan will bring the outbreak under control using methods" that have worked well elsewhere, it said.

However, two government agencies said yesterday they had quarantined some of their staff after their colleagues were suspected of having caught the disease.

A member of the Government Information Office, identified only by his surname, Liu, checked in to the Taipei Municipal Chung Hsing Hospital on Friday with a fever, according to Lee Cher-jean (李雪津), deputy head of the agency. He was listed as a suspected SARS case yesterday.

As a precautionary measure, 27 of Liu's coworkers and his mother were ordered to begin a 10-day home quarantine yesterday.

GIO Director-General Arthur Iap (葉國興), who works in the same building as Liu, will remain working at his office, although Lee and some other members of staff will have to move to other floors or buildings.

Fifteen workers at the Council for Economic Planning and Development began working at home for three days on Monday after a female staffer in the Council's manpower department was listed as a suspected SARS case.

According to Hsieh Fa-dah (謝發達), vice chairman of the council, the woman checked in to Keelung Chang Gung Hospital last Tuesday after developing a fever. Hsieh said she was suffering from bronchitic allergy. She was then transferred to the Linkou Chang Gung Hospital.

A holiday island in Penghu County is also facing restrictions because of the outbreak.

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