SARS Numbers Spike In Taiwan

Taiwan reported its biggest daily jump in SARS cases on Thursday and the World Health Organization said it is seeking $200 million to help Asian nations combat the virus.

The new fund is meant to boost severe acute respiratory syndrome surveillance and analysis in China and other hard-hit nations. WHO said it hoped businesses — particularly those with operations or markets in Asia — would give half the money. The agency said it expects to collect the rest from governments.

"Despite the rapid and effective response from partners around the world, SARS exposes fundamental weaknesses in global health infrastructure," said Dr. Jong-wook Lee, WHO's newly elected director general, in a statement.

Taiwan has the world's third-highest SARS toll after mainland China and Hong Kong — 483 cases and 60 deaths. More than 12,000 people are under quarantine. Thursday saw eight new SARS deaths and 65 more cases.

Su Yi-jen, chief of Taiwan's Center for Disease Control, said Thursday's sharp increase in cases was largely due to improvements in Taiwan's SARS confirmation process. He said officials were working faster to confirm a backlog of about 400 suspected cases.

"We are now at the peak of the new wave, and we're at the stage when we're about to come down," Su said.

When SARS began spreading in China and Hong Kong, Taiwan began taking aggressive measures against potential outbreaks here.

The efforts were initially successful. But in recent weeks, the island lost control of the virus as hospitals failed to accurately diagnose patients. The government has fined two hospitals for allegedly covering up cases.

Most countries with SARS outbreaks have worked closely with the World Health Organization. But Taiwan isn't a WHO member and has limited ties with the U.N. agency. America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to serve as an adviser to Taiwan.

One U.S. health expert helping the island developed symptoms of the often-deadly virus. So far, the man, who wasn't identified, has not tested positive for the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome. He was to return to the United States by charter plane on Friday.

In Hong Kong, the first frontline doctor killed by SARS was buried with honors Thursday, and health officials said they were investigating the cases of 11 residents of one apartment building who caught the disease.

Dr. Tse Yuen-man died May 13, becoming one of three frontline health workers to give their lives in Hong Kong's battle against the virus that has sickened 258 people.

"We remember her as a true daughter of Hong Kong. She has become the pride of our city," said Hugo Chan, a lawyer and elder of Tse's Christian church, the Praise Assembly.

Tse, 35, had volunteered to work in a SARS ward and had been infected alongside 38-year-old nurse Lau Wing-kai as they tried to resuscitate a patient in Tuen Mun Hospital. Lau died last month.

Three more SARS deaths and three new cases were reported Thursday, as Hong Kong kept its new infections in the single digits for a 19th consecutive day.

In Phnom Penh, WHO said doctors were observing a 16-year-old Cambodian student who recently returned from China to determine if he was Cambodia's first SARS case.

Thousands of students in Beijing went back to class Thursday, mostly seniors studying for college entrance exams in June. Beijing had closed its schools April 24, sending home 1.7 million students. Many had been cooped up at home, told to avoid their friends so SARS would not spread.

"I'm really excited to see all my friends again. I can't stop smiling," said Qing Zhu, 18, who was chatting with a classmate at Beijing No. 80 High School on the city's north side.

A Beijing truck driver who claimed to have SARS during a drunken encounter with police to avoid being arrested has been sentenced to two years in prison. It was the first SARS-related prison term imposed in Beijing.

Throughout China's mainland, the disease has killed 300 people and infected more than 5,270.

The world death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome rose to 684, with more than 8,000 people infected.

The U.S. has not recorded a death. The CDC listed 353 suspected or probable cases.