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Beijing Closes Schools to Curb Spread of SARS - 2003-04-23

In Beijing, schools and universities are shutting down in an effort to curtail the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Beijing's schools were ordered to close as new figures reveal that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has spread further in the city than previously thought.

China now reports more than 2,300 SARS cases and at least 106 deaths. But the Ministry of Health warned there are 1,100 suspected cases scattered across the country.

Not only has the number of SARS victims increased, but more provinces reported SARS outbreaks, confirming that the disease has spread to China's poorer areas. At least 22 of China's 30 provinces and municipal districts have SARS cases.

The World Health Organization had voiced concern in the past that the death rate could rise if the disease hits areas ill-equipped to treat SARS.

Hong Kong officials say a team of environmental experts from WHO will examine tests indicating that SARS spread through a faulty sewage system to infect hundreds of people in one apartment building.

Tracy Treadwell, a WHO epidemiologist based in Hong Kong, explains the difficulty in determining the main cause for the massive outbreak in the Amoy Gardens high-rise.

"I do not know that leaking sewage pipes, they are not placing a huge percentage of the cause on that, I think it is one of the additional causes," said Dr. Treadwell. "I do not think you can really say it is 50 percent this, 20 percent that, 10 percent that. We have no way of being able to break it out that way."

Hong Kong has seen more than 1,400 SARS cases and 105 deaths.

The city's lawmakers are considering a government relief package that grants tax rebates and loans for businesses hurt by the SARS outbreak, which has cut tourism and retailing.

Officials in Taiwan's capital, Taipei, said seven hospital workers have displayed SARS symptoms, such as high fever and atypical pneumonia, and are being isolated.

In Singapore, 2,400 people under quarantine after possibly coming in contact with a SARS patient were told they could face jail if they do not remain isolated. The quarantine covers vendors in a vegetable market where one man became sick and died from the disease.

Worldwide, more than 4,000 people have been infected with SARS and about 240 have died.