Canada's SARS Struggles Continue

A hospital worker wears protective clothing as he stands in the doorway of the closed emergency ward at North York General Hospital in Toronto, Canada Monday May 26, 2003. The World Health Organization put Toronto back on its SARS-affected areas list Monday, a move local and provincial officials knew was inevitable after eight probable cases of SARS were identified Sunday. AP

A Hewlett-Packard employee near Toronto has died, and a high school was closed and its 1,700 students were in quarantine Thursday amid renewed SARS fears in Canada's largest city, while Taiwan reported its biggest increase in new cases of the disease in nearly a week.

A total of 29 people have died from the illness in Canada, reports Chris Mavridis of CBS Radio affiliate CFRB-AM.

The 62-year-old HP employee broke quarantine to go to work at the company's information processing plant in Markham, north of the Toronto, despite showing symptoms of SARS.

Health authorities called for a quarantine of the HP plant last month when they learned the man could have knowingly placed nearly 200 co-workers in danger. Authorities were considering charges against the man, but were waiting for him to be released from the hospital.

A Grade 11 student attended Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy for three days with symptoms of SARS before health officials closed the school, sending the students and teachers into quarantine, a school board official said Wednesday.

Chris Cable of the York Catholic District School Board said the student "unknowingly" attended the school last week displaying symptoms.

"Right now our understanding is that the student is in stable condition but is ill," she said.

The boy is the son of a health-care worker. Both the boy and his parent were hospitalized this past weekend.

An editorial in the latest Canadian Medical Association Journal raises questions about the Canadian government's preparedness in dealing with infectious disease emergencies like SARS.

"We need to make public health a national priority," journal editor Dr. John Hoey told the CBC's Melissa Fung.

"We need a federal, national public officer of health — a surgeon general — something like that, who can speak independently of the federal government, and can take into consideration solely the protection of public health," he said.

Hoey and others are calling for a Canadian equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Hoey said it was fortunate that the SARS outbreak was in Toronto, a city with abundant medical resources.

Ontario is spending another $320 million on health-related SARS costs, bringing the province's total bill up to $848 million, but the head of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario said she's disappointed that danger pay for nurses working in hospital SARS units wasn't included. Doris Grinspun notes that about 60 nurses have been diagnosed with possible, probable or definite cases of SARS, and "hundreds" have been quarantined, she told the Toronto Star.

So far, four hospital workers have been killed by severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong, where a total of 273 have died from the mystery illness so far.

Taiwan on Thursday reported 50 new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, its biggest rise in six days. Officials insist that Taiwan's outbreak is declining, and said Thursday's jump included 40 patients who earlier tested negative and were later reclassified as confirmed.

The increase came even as the World Health Organization said Taiwan was making "important strides" in controlling its SARS crisis — which came to a head later on the island than in other affected Asian countries. WHO cited Taiwan's new screening programs and fever clinics.

China Thursday reported two new deaths, bringing the mainland's total to 327. Authorities were trying to enforce controls against the spread of the virus in Beijing by threatening fines for people who evade health checkpoints or illegally enter quarantined areas.

At least 5,325 people on China's mainland are infected. Beijing has reported 176 deaths and has more than 2,500 people under quarantine.

Many activities in the capital are returning to normal, though officials haven't said when discos and other entertainment sites will be allowed to reopen. They were ordered to close a month ago at the height of the outbreak.

New penalties announced Wednesday night by the Beijing Joint Working Group for SARS Prevention and Treatment also include fines for failure to properly disinfect areas where SARS cases have been found.

People who evade checkpoints, enter or leave quarantine areas without permission or hinder SARS-related investigations can be fined up to 200 yuan ($24) — equivalent to about one week's pay for the average Beijing resident.

The working group said companies that break the rules can be fined ten times that amount.

Police and volunteers in Beijing have been operating disease checkpoints since April, watching out for people with fevers or other symptoms.

Some have been spraying cars and trucks with disinfectant.

Checkpoints have also been set up at entrances to many buildings where people are made to disinfect their shoes.

China's Supreme Court said this month that people who cause death or serious injury by knowingly spreading the virus can face penalties ranging up to the death sentence.

It said patients who break quarantine can be imprisoned for up to seven years.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome has now sickened more than 8,200 people worldwide and killed about 750, with the biggest numbers in mainland China and Hong Kong.
  • Sue Chan

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