Hospital worker dies of SARS in Hong Kong; global toll nears 770

Associated Press

HONG KONG - A seventh front-line Hong Kong health-care worker died of SARS, the government here announced yesterday, while Canadian nurses accused hospital officials of ignoring warnings of Toronto's latest outbreak, which also claimed another victim.

In Taiwan, officials handed out free thermometers in an island-wide "take-your-temperature" campaign amid signs that containment efforts were paying off. The number of daily infections remained in single digits for the third day in a row.

China reported no new SARS fatalities yesterday and two new cases on its mainland, the lowest daily figures since April, when authorities began reporting cases each day. The death toll remained at 332 out of 5,330 cases.

Meanwhile, the global death toll approached 770, with more than 8,300 people sickened since severe acute respiratory syndrome first appeared in southern China in November. Most of the victims have been in China and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, there were three more deaths, including that of a 53-year-old ward attendant at the Prince of Wales Hospital, who was infected with SARS while caring for patients in March. The territory has announced 281 SARS deaths.

The deadliest outbreak outside Asia has been in Canada's largest city, Toronto, where authorities believed that they had beaten the disease until a new cluster of infections was found last month in two city hospitals.

Health officials reported yesterday that an unidentified 60-year-old woman died the day before. The woman was exposed to the SARS virus while in the hospital but was not a health-care worker, said Dr. Colin D'Cunha, Ontario's commissioner of public health.

Nurses have accused officials at the city's North York General Hospital of dismissing warnings of a new wave of SARS infections, the Toronto Star reported.

Doris Grinspun, executive director of the 16,000-member Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, called for a "full review" of the situation.

Grinspun's concerns came after two emergency room nurses tried to warn doctors at the hospital in mid-May that five family members had SARS-like symptoms, according to the newspaper. But she said the nurses were told they were overreacting.

Public health officials later announced dozens of new cases.

Marcia Taylor, the Ontario Nurses Association vice president, said nurses knew that SARS never disappeared.

"Our members were telling us of people with classic SARS symptoms coming into hospital. It appeared government was more focused on the protection of the Toronto tourist industry than the health of our health-care workers and ... the public," she told the Toronto Star.

The nurses could not be reached for further comment.

D'Cunha and Dr. James Young, Ontario's commissioner of public safety, told reporters at a news conference that they did not have the authority to set up a public inquiry into the nurses' claims, but they insisted health officials were ready to listen.

D'Cunha said there were 52 active probable cases of SARS, up six from the day before. The city's official SARS death toll stood at 31. About 5,700 people remained in quarantine, down by nearly 2,000 from Saturday, D'Cunha said.

In Taiwan, officials were upbeat yesterday at the start of the campaign to encourage people to check for early symptoms of SARS. Authorities reported four new SARS cases, and no deaths were logged for the fourth successive day. Taiwan has had 81 fatalities out of 680 infections.

"The epidemic is ebbing," Taipei Mayor Ma Ying Jeou said. "This is also the moment when people will be tempted to let down their guard and risk wiping out all our past efforts to contain the disease."

Trade ministers from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are set to meet in Thailand this week to approve an emergency plan to revive the region's tourism industry and other businesses affected by SARS.

Economic growth rates in Asia have fallen because of the disease: Hong Kong by 1.8 percentage points, Singapore by 1.1, Taiwan by 0.9 and China by 0.2, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad