Still reeling

New SARS cases in China

Published: Sunday 15 February 2004

two new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (sars) have been reported in China, taking the total number of afflicted persons to three. Worse still, Chinese authorities are realising that all their plans to contain the disease may go awry. This is because hundreds of millions of people in the urban areas are travelling home to villages for a holiday before the commencement of the Lunar New Year from January 22. Their cross-country travel, it is feared, would spread the infection to newer areas, making quarantine difficult.

Meanwhile, a leading sars expert at the University of Hong Kong revealed that the present disease-causing strain is not a descendant of last year's virus and appears to be less contagious This may be so because it is not well adapted to humans and behaves more like a virus in animals,averred microbiologist Guan Yi. Perhaps this explains why two out of three confirmed sars victims returned home after brief stays in hospitals.

In another development, World Health Organisation (who) experts have confirmed that civet cats carried the deadly virus in the southern province of Guangdong, where the first new case was reported. Chinese authorities have promptly responded, declaring that the animal, a delicacy in the region, would now face a permanent trade and consumption ban. As many as 3,945 civet cats and other animals like raccoon dogs and badgers, suspected of carrying the virus, had been reportedly culled in the province till January 18.

Unlike last year, sars is yet to assume epidemic proportions. Even Australia, which had two visitors to China returning with high fever, ruled out the infection. But Hong Kong has rounded up some 136 people who have returned from mainland China with high fever since January 5.

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