WHO: SARS Hasn't Peaked Yet In China

The head of the World Health Organization cautioned Tuesday that the SARS virus still has not peaked in China, while Beijing warned it will punish officials who do not work hard enough to fight the disease.

Strict measures have put more than 25,000 people in quarantine across China, where news slowly emerged of more protests by those fearful that SARS patients at local hospitals will infect their communities.

No one knows how many tens of thousands more are at home, simply afraid to go out, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen. Students, because schools are closed, are getting their lesson plans on the Internet, and for adults, there are reruns of famous popular Chinese sitcoms so they have something to laugh at.

Despite the fact that Tuesday was supposed to be a pretty normal workday in Beijing, the city remained surprisingly empty, reports Petersen.

Media reports in Beijing quoted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as saying that while progress against SARS had been made, the outbreak in the Chinese capital "still remains grave."

The worldwide death toll from SARS rose to at least 480 after 16 new deaths were reported: eight in China, six in Hong Kong, and one each in Singapore and Taiwan. More than 6,600 people have been infected, mostly in China.

In Brussels, Belgium, European health ministers met in an emergency session to standardize anti-SARS measures across the continent, which has reported 33 probable cases but no deaths.

WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said she would be "surprised if EU nations were not prepared," but warned that China still did not have a handle on SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"Certainly, we have not seen a peak in China yet," Brundtland said. "There is obviously an increase in the outbreak going on."

Still, Brundtland was optimistic.

"We have a window of opportunity. We still can contain the first new disease of this century and make it go away," she said.

Officials in Taiwan extended mandatory home quarantines for suspected SARS patients in Taipei from 10 to 14 days. Mayor Ma Ying-jeou said a SARS task force would detain those who broke the rule. Taiwan also postponed high school entrance exams.

A WHO team was visiting Taiwan after getting permission from China, which claims the island as its territory and insisted WHO officials stay away.

Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO regional office in Manila, Philippines, said the two epidemiologists were maintaining a low profile during their weeklong visit to Taiwan so as not to upset the mainland government.

"They are not supposed to make a lot of noise. This is a delicate matter," he said.

Doctors in Hong Kong say they have helped some SARS patients survive by administering a serum that contains antibodies to the virus obtained from patients who have recovered.

"This treatment has only been applied to those critically ill patients when everything else fails," said Janet Chow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

China remains worst-hit by the respiratory illness, reporting 138 more cases and eight new fatalities Tuesday, raising its death toll to 214.

The U.S. electronics maker, Motorola Inc., said it closed its China headquarters in Beijing after an employee contracted SARS, forcing more than 1,000 employees to work from home.

Wen, the Chinese premier, ordered officials at all levels to work hard against the illness or face harsh punishment, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"It is very important to do the job well in Beijing, which is the capital and the political and cultural center of the country," Wen was quoted as saying.

Beijing has about 2,000 cases of infection — nearly half the county's total — and 107 deaths. To stop the spread of SARS, Beijing has closed schools, built a new 1,000-bed hospital on its outskirts and ordered travel restrictions.

In central China, protesters in Hujiayao village in Henan province ransacked a hospital on April 28 and 29 that had been designated as a SARS treatment center, destroying walls and fencing, a local official said.

Henan was at least the third place in China where violent protests are known to have occurred in recent days. China's media is state-controlled and information about such incidents often gets out long after the fact.

The Singapore death reported Tuesday was linked to a cluster of infections at the city-state's largest wholesale market. Its death toll increased to 28.

Hong Kong's tally rose to 193 with its six new deaths. However, only nine new cases of infection were reported in the former British colony, fueling hopes that the worst might be over there. Hong Kong wants WHO to lift a warning against unnecessary travel to the territory, but WHO officials said the number of new cases needs to come down further first, said Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, the local health secretary.

In the United States, the University of California at Berkeley said it will turn away new students from China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong in coming months. In what is believed to be the first such move by a major U.S. educational institution, about 500 would-be students will get their fees refunded.

In Geneva, a global air industry group said new airport screening methods have kept SARS-infected passengers from boarding airplanes and reduced the risk of disease transmission to other passengers. "Travel by air is safe, even in this situation," said Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association.

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