City reports more deaths
Hong Kong said yesterday the SARS virus had killed two more people and infected seven others as new infections stayed in the single digits for the seventh straight day. The figures took the cumulative cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the territory to 1,674 and the death toll to 212, a health official said. Twenty patients were discharged, taking the total of those discharged to 1,035, the government said. There are 427 patients in hospital, including those recovering and getting ready to leave. Hong Kong says the World Health Organisation will consider lifting its warning against non-essential travel to the territory when new daily infections fall below five for three consecutive days, and the number of active cases drops to 60 or less.
Scientists face challenge
Scientists battling SARS face the challenge of finding a vaccine that does not trigger a harmful immune reaction in the body, a top Australian virologist said yesterday. "We have to be very cautious, and I think that that will then mean any viable vaccine is a number of years down the track," Steve Wesselingh, director of the Burnet Institute, told reporters at a global meet on disaster and emergency medicine. Potential vaccines could have the effect of invoking an immune response that could worsen a patient's reaction to SARS, Wesselingh said. Companies and government labs with antiviral agents are now scrambling to find a drug to treat SARS.
Pig virus paved the way
Malaysia managed to curtail the spread of the SARS virus partly because of the country's experience with tackling a deadly pig-borne virus four years ago, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said yesterday. Malaysia's struggle in early 1999 to contain an outbreak of the Nipah virus has given health officials here "an advantage to be able to put things into action more quickly. In Malaysia, the seven formal cases of SARS all appear to be imported cases, and it appears that the disease did not continue" to transmit locally, the official said. Severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed two Malaysians and infected five others. All the victims contracted the illness while visiting places hard hit by SARS.
80 freed from quarantine
Eighty people were freed from a 10-day quarantine in a Russian hotel near the Chinese border on Friday after doctors said none had the deadly SARS virus. The 65 Chinese and 15 Russians found themselves in forced seclusion last week after an ambulance carried away 25-year-old Denis Soynikov, another guest at Blagoveshchensk's Zarya hotel who was suspected of being infected. Their plight ended at 8pm local time on Friday as the region's deputy chief epidemiologist issued an order to lift the quarantine, allowing everyone to go free. Yet the hotel administrator said there was no stampede towards the door. "Nobody packed their bags and ran. It is all quiet," she said. "But there have been no new bookings either." She declined to comment on what the atmosphere inside was like but Russian television said canteen attendants had refused to serve meals to the Chinese.
Pot proposals praised
It may sound counterintuitive, but Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon believes that by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana he will actually cut its use. Cauchon said in an interview on Friday that current criminal sanctions are being applied so rarely and unevenly that reducing the penalties and then enforcing them should result in a more effective deterrent. "The system is broken. It doesn't work. We have to fix it and we have to be realistic in fixing it," Cauchon said. "It's 2003 and we realize that the existing legislation hasn't been effective, and more and more people are using cannabis."