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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Asian leaders plan Sars summit
A child having a temperature check in Hong Kong's airport
Air passengers in Hong Kong must now have their temperature checked
A group of East Asian countries is due to hold a summit to discuss ways to tackle the Sars crisis, as many countries in the region continue to battle with the disease.

Thai Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said the meeting, which will be attended by all 10 member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), would be held on 29 April in Bangkok.

She said that delegates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and China, where the virus has hit hardest, may also attend.

Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists have confirmed to be a mutant form of the corona virus, the cause of the common cold, has now claimed more than 160 lives and infected a further 3,000 people worldwide.

Universities in Beijing announced on Thursday that some classes would be cancelled to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Chinese Government also admitted for the first time that the outbreak could hurt China's economic growth, echoing projections by external economists.

"Sars, for sure, will have an influence on the economy's performance in China," said Yao Jingyuan, from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Health officials in China announced another 13 cases of Sars on Thursday, but said none were in Beijing, where a team from the WHO estimated there could be up to 200 cases on Wednesday.

The WHO has accused China of failing to report the full extent of the Sars virus, and said the actual number of sufferers in Beijing is far higher than the reported figure of 37.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China was "working hard to make these figures accurate", according to the French news agency AFP.

Temperature checks

The second most affected area, Hong Kong, is further stepping up its measures against the disease.

Four more people died of Sars in the territory on Thursday, bringing the total death toll there to 65.

Hong Kong airport officials have now started checking the temperature of thousands of outbound air passengers.

How Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has spread around the world

Those found to have abnormally high temperatures will be examined further, and barred from travelling if they are found to have Sars, said a spokeswoman at Chek Lap Kok airport.

Despite the inconvenience, one male passenger said he did not mind the temperature checks.

"It is for our own safety and for others as well," he said.

An official report into the Sars outbreak in Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens apartment block, where more than 300 people were infected with the disease, has concluded that the virus spread through a sewage pipe.

A Sars patient with diarrhoea inadvertently infected others when the virus was transmitted through the building's drainage system, said health secretary Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong.

He added that there was no evidence of airborne transmission, although many people are thought to have become infected by person-to-person contact in communal areas of the apartment complex.

Australian case

Other East Asian countries are also continuing their battle against the disease.

Fifteen people have died so far in Singapore, five in Vietnam, two in Thailand and one in Malaysia.

Health officials in Australia announced on Thursday that the country had its first cases of Sars.

Chief medical officer Richard Smallwood said three children visiting the country from Canada are believed to have had Sars, but they had now fully recovered and were not thought to have infected anyone else.

Airline passengers arriving in Singapore from certain Sars-stricken areas are now being scanned for the disease by a military-grade thermal imaging camera, which will detect any increase in temperature, officials said.

But other countries are scaling down their restrictions.

On Thursday Thailand shortened an obligatory home quarantine for residents returning from Sars-affected countries from 14 days to 10.

Meanwhile Malaysia said it was lifting a ban imposed last week on tourists from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Canada.

The Malaysian authorities said they were satisfied with efforts in those countries to contain the Sars virus.

The BBC's Adam Brookes
"Travellers here are having their temperature taken before being allowed to board their flights"


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