INTERNATIONAL

Sharp rise in Taiwan SARS cases

TAIPEI (Taiwan) MAY 22. Taiwan reported 65 new SARS infections — the island's biggest daily jump in cases — on Thursday as a U.S. health expert assisting the island developed symptoms of the deadly virus.

The official with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported having a fever and muscle pain — common SARS symptoms — this week while staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Taipei, said Su Yi-jen, chief of the island's Centre for Disease Control.

The man, who wasn't identified, was taken to a hospital for an examination and the hotel was temporarily sealed off, Mr. Su said.

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Su reported 65 new cases — the island's sharpest daily increase. The island now has 483 infections. He also said there were eight more fatalities, raising the death roll to 60.

The official said the sharp increase in cases was largely due to improvements in Taiwan's SARS confirmation process. Mr. Su noted that the WHO and America's CDC have complained that Taiwan had about 400 cases awaiting confirmation and that officials were taking too long to sort out the patients.

Many of the new cases on Thursday were from that backlog, he said. ``We are now at the peak of the new wave, and we're at the stage when we're about to come down,'' he said.

The new numbers were announced one day after the WHO warned travellers to avoid the entire island. Originally, the U.N. health agency only advised people against making non-essential visits to Taiwan's capital, Taipei. Following the WHO's lead, Britain issued a new travel warning about Taiwan, strongly advising its citizens not to go to the island, about 160 km off China's south-eastern coast.

The outbreak has already forced Taiwanese to change their daily routines and cancel several important events. On Thursday, the elite National Taiwan University announced that it called off its June 7 graduation ceremony.

China reopens schools

Meanwhile, in China, thousands of students went back to class on Thursday as Beijing began to reopen public schools that were shut down at the height of the Chinese capital's SARS outbreak.

``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.

School closures on April 24 sent home 1.7 million students. Most spent the past month at home, often in tiny apartments, told by schools not to see classmates to avoid possibly spreading the virus.

Classes for students planning to take university entrance tests resumed on Thursday. Lower grades were to return later. Some schools will stay closed longer, holding classes on the Internet or television.

The measures were part of sweeping efforts to contain SARS in Beijing, the world's hardest-hit area with 156 deaths reported and nearly 2,500 people infected.

Throughout China's mainland, the disease has killed at least 296 people, with more than 5,200 cases reported.

AP

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