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SARS surveillance tightened ahead of holiday
Updated: 2004-04-24 22:23

China heightened surveillance of passengers for SARS on Saturday ahead of a week-long holiday starting May 1, when millions are on the move, after the first reported death from the virus since a major outbreak last year.

The Health Ministry reported no new cases after confirming China's first two in months on Friday. Both women were in stable condition with normal temperatures, it said.

Government departments issued a circular asking the country's transport sector and ports to strengthen quarantine work to prevent SARS -- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -- from spreading.

Railway stations and airports were ordered to check the temperatures of all passengers from Beijing and Anhui province, where the latest cases were reported.

The Labour Day "Golden Week," a break for travel, shopping and family reunions, was cut short last year during the peak of the worldwide SARS outbreak for fear of spreading the disease.

The death of a woman from Anhui, the mother of a confirmed SARS patient, was the first since last year's outbreak of the flu-like illness that killed more than 800 people worldwide.

She died taking care of her daughter, a medical student believed to have caught the virus while working for two weeks in March at the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing, known to be engaged in SARS research, Xinhua news agency said.

The other confirmed patient was a nurse who treated the student. The only other suspected case was a post-doctoral researcher who worked alongside her in the lab.

Three other people who came down with fevers after coming in contact with her were also recovering.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) said China had requested help from its biosafety investigation team to track down the exact cause of the latest outbreak.

"A lab team is being sent to determine what happened," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said. "If it was a laboratory accident, we have to find out how it happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening in the future."

WHO aims to dispatch the global head of its SARS team, Angela Merianos, to Beijing as it rounds up members for the laboratory investigation group, Thompson said.

The first phase of clinical testing of a SARS vaccine is soon to be conducted at a Beijing hospital, Xinhua quoted China's SARS vaccine research and development team as saying.

Forty healthy volunteers, 20 men and 20 women aged from 21 to 40, would be inoculated either with the vaccine or a placebo free of the SARS virus for random comparison.

The volunteers would take blood tests at regular intervals and during an observation period lasting 210 days.

HK airports, checkpoints in normal operation

Airport and checkpoints in Hong Kong are in normal operation Saturday, which have kept alert against SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) after the  confirmation of two SARS cases in Chinese mainland.

To cope with the huge influx of visitors expected from the  China's mainland during the coming holidays from May 1 to 7, Hong  Kong's Immigration Department will deploy an additional 300  employees to different checkpoints, its director Lai Tung-kwok  noted.

He said that the department would strictly observe the health  checks during the holidays.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong International Airport noted that they have followed the practice of requiring all passengers leaving Hong Kong by air to fill the health report cards and to have the body temperatures taken since April last year.

They will introduce new preventive measures if the relevant health department would suggest any, he said.

After learning the news of two SARS cases in Beijing and in central Anhui province, most of the Hong Kong visitors who had planned a tour to Beijing continued with their journey, with a small number of them canceling their visits, according to the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.

The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region announced Friday that it has activated the alert level of the three-level emergency response system relating to SARS.

An emergency response command structure involving senior officials from the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority has been put in place. It will monitor the developments closely and decide on appropriate  actions in anticipation of new developments.

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