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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 April, 2003, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Virus deaths mount in Hong Kong
Chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (middle), wearing a mask for the first time in public, tours a street
Hong Kong's chief executive (centre) is expected to join in the clean-up
Hong Kong has announced 12 more deaths from the pneumonia-like Sars virus - the largest number of fatalities from the disease in one day.

The number of deaths in the densely-packed territory has now exceeded 80 - more than the officially reported total for mainland China, although Beijing has been accused of covering up the true extent of the situation there.

Although Hong Kong officials stress that patients are continuing to recover, the latest figures are contributing to a sense of crisis in the territory.

Thousands of people in Hong Kong have begun cleaning up the city in an attempt to combat the spread of the virus which has infected more than 1,300 people in the territory and more than 3,000 people worldwide.

Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa - who is expected to join in the clean-up operation - toured the streets on Saturday wearing a mask in public for the first time.

There were also 31 new reported cases, the government said.

Cleaning request

The government has urged all Hong Kong's citizens to take part in the two-day clean-up, which includes cleansing and disinfecting streets, parks, shops, restaurants and homes.

Tourism and business have been badly affected across the region amid public panic about the spread of the virus.

In Singapore, where 14 people have died, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned the city-state was facing the worst crisis in its 37-year history.

Workers wearing masks against the deadly Sars virus, clean the street in Hong Kong Saturday, 19 April 2003
The virus is believed to have originated in southern China
"The economic costs are huge," Mr Goh told reporters on Saturday. "The cost to Singapore will be in excess of S$1.5bn (US$843m)."

Government officials and police in Hong Kong have formed a taskforce to investigate areas where there have been a cluster of cases.

An outbreak at Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens apartment block infected more than 300 people.

An official report released on Thursday concluded that the virus had spread through a sewage pipe.

In China, where the virus first emerged in Guangdong province in November, the ruling Communist Party has ordered an end to secrecy over the extent of the epidemic.

'Losing control'

A World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the outbreak there has predicted that China will reveal a far greater number of cases than the 1,485 reported so far.

The worst-affected area outside Asia is Canada, where it was announced on Saturday that a 14th person had died of the virus.

Public health officials in Toronto have admitted they may be losing control of the situation, and thousands of people have gone into voluntary quarantine.

The BBC's Martin Popplewell
"The World Health Organisation says the threat of Sars spreading across the world... is diminishing"


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