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China Keeps Schools Closed; Taiwan Enforces Quarantine Orders Amid SARS Outbreak

HONG KONG (voa) – Beijing will keep schools closed in a continued effort to curtail the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. A handful of schools in Taiwan have also been shut as Taipei cracks down on those breaking quarantine orders. In Hong Kong, doctors are optimistic the disease is no longer spreading in the community.

Officials in Beijing announced Sunday that elementary and middle schools will remain closed for at least two more weeks.

Classes in Beijing’s schools and universities were canceled two weeks ago after it became apparent that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was spreading rapidly in the capital.

Beijing reported 69 new SARS cases on Sunday – one of the lowest increases since the government began reporting new cases several weeks ago.

But the outbreak is far from over. Nationwide, China reported 197 more cases on Sunday, bringing the nationwide total above 4,100. Deaths rose by seven to 197.

In Hong Kong, SARS claimed five lives on Sunday, but the number of new cases, eight, was the smallest in nearly two months. Hong Kong has the world’s second-biggest SARS outbreak, with 1,629 cases and 184 deaths.

The director of the city’s Health Department, Margaret Chan, said SARS is becoming less of a threat, because most new cases now can be directly linked to an older case, and it does not appear new clusters of cases are cropping up. “In the last two weeks, we are seeing this continuing declining trend in the number of new cases. We do not see clusters of cases,” Ms. Chan said.

Hong Kong authorities have hospitalized 10 crew members on a Malaysia cargo ship who had fallen ill. The ship arrived in the city’s waters early Sunday.

The sick crew had displayed high fever – one of the symptoms common among SARS victims – but it is not yet clear if they actually have SARS. Some of the sick sailors reportedly have already begun to recover. The remaining 14 sailors on the ship are under quarantine.

Taiwan closed a technical college on Sunday after a student there became sick. It is one of six schools closed because of concerns over SARS. About 2,000 of the college’s students are being quarantined.

Taipei’s mayor warned those ordered to stay home face high fines if they do not obey quarantine measures.

Taiwan reported 11 more probable SARS cases on Sunday, bringing the island’s total to more than 100. So far eight people in Taiwan have died of the disease.

More than 6,300 people have been infected with SARS around the world. The disease, which causes serious pneumonia, has killed nearly 450 people.

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