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Beijing Hospital Sealed Off Amid SARS Fears - 2003-04-24

Beijing is sealing off one of its largest hospitals and the Hong Kong government has quarantined more residents exposed to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

No one was allowed to leave or enter the People's Hospital of Beijing University, after authorities ordered the facility sealed.

A large number of health workers in the hospital had reportedly contracted the disease. But the vice director of Beijing's Center for Disease Control, Shi He Xiong, denies that the hospital is shutting down, and says it was disinfected to guard against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

He says the hospital's suspected SARS patients have been moved to hospitals designated to treat the disease. But patients with other ailments would remain for treatment.

About 2200 people work at the 1500 bed hospital, which is one of Beijing's largest medical facilities.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is extending a travel advisory to cover Beijing and the northern province of Shanxi. The capital has reported 39 deaths from SARS and about 750 cases.

Late Wednesday, Beijing's government said it would quarantine those exposed to SARS and restrict access to buildings that may be contaminated.

China, where the disease is thought to have originated, has the world's largest outbreak of SARS. So far, 2422 cases have been reported and 110 people have died.

The official SARS count in China has increased by more than 100 cases each day since Sunday, when the central government adopted a more aggressive approach to reporting cases.

Hong Kong quarantined another 30 households and 60 individuals exposed to SARS, as the death toll rose by four to reach 109. The territory has reported 1488 SARS cases.

Margaret Chan, Hong Kong's Director of Health, says a WHO official is studying buildings where some of the worst contaminations have occurred.

"It is a landmark study to help us to understand the various situations where outbreaks occur, like in the hospital setting, in a residential building setting, in a hotel," she explained. "All in all, these buildings are different."

Singapore is seeking to double the penalties for quarantined individuals breaking the home confinement order. Hopes that the city-state had managed to control the spread of SARS are fading as the number of suspected cases is rising again.

Hospitals in Malaysia and Thailand are monitoring new suspected SARS cases, and Israel has banned migrant workers from places with large SARS outbreaks.

The disease, which leads to serious pneumonia, has killed at least 251 people around the world and infected more than 4300 people in at least 25 countries.