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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Sars death toll grows in China
Hong Kong shoppers
Fear of infection has transformed normal life
China says the Sars virus has killed 13 and affected 194 more people since Friday, as the deadly disease continues to spread.

The latest figures - reported by China's official news agency - bring the death toll from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome to 92 in the country, with the total number of cases reaching 2,001.

In Hong Kong, the authorities said six more people had died there, bringing the death toll from Sars to 94 - the highest in the world.

As people avoid travel and public places for fear of infection, the disease is also taking its toll on economies in the region.

In Beijing, shops, restaurants and hotels are empty and locals in Hong Kong say their city is a ghost town, according to the BBC's Holly Williams in the Chinese capital.

The pneumonia-like disease has now spread to four previously unaffected provinces in China, but most of the new cases are in Beijing.

Shanghai inquiry

The latest figures came after the Chinese Government signalled a tough new approach to the disease, admitting a cover-up, sacking top officials and pledging more than $100m for disease control in its poorest provinces.

As the scale of infections in Beijing becomes clearer, a team from the World Health Organisation is in China's biggest city, Shanghai, to assess how it is coping.

KNOWN DEATH TOLL
Hong Kong: 94
China: 92
Canada: 14
Singapore: 14
Vietnam: 5
Thailand: 2
Malaysia: 1
Shanghai is China's business hub, with a web of connections to Hong Kong, Beijing and many other places with high Sars infection rates, yet the city authorities insist there are only two confirmed Sars cases.

But after the revelation of a far worse situation than previously admitted in Beijing, the WHO experts will be trying to find out how truthful a picture the Shanghai administration is presenting.

Sars was front-page news in every major newspaper on Monday - a drastic change from weeks of very little coverage.

The sharp rise in official figures - from 40 to more than 300 confirmed cases in Beijing, as well as around 400 suspected cases - also provoked some strong editorials.

Taipei trade fair
Trade gone: Economies are Sars latest victims
"A cover-up is more scary than an epidemic," a commentary by the Beijing Star Daily said, quoted by Reuters.

As well as extra money for disease control, the Chinese authorities have cancelled the traditional week-long May Day holiday in an attempt to stop people from travelling and so spreading the disease.

Our correspondent says this is a clear sign that the authorities are finally taking the outbreak seriously.

Classes have also been suspended at several universities in the capital, including China Northern Jiaotong University where 118 people are under observation, AFP reported.

The four provinces which now have Sars cases are the northern areas of Jilin and Liaoning, Zhejiang in the east, and Gansu in the north-west.

There is no cure or vaccine for the virus, and China's efforts are seen as vital to controlling the epidemic, which has hit business and travel in Asia. The death rate from Sars infections is put at about 4%.

The latest victims in Hong Kong - two women and four men - were aged between 48 and 79 and all had a history of chronic illness, a statement from the health department said.

So far, 1,402 cases of the illness have been recorded there.

In Singapore, the authorities have placed 2,400 workers in quarantine and closed a large vegetable market for 10 days after a man working there was diagnosed with Sars.

Sars has also claimed 14 lives in Canada. The authorities closed the country's largest trauma unit for at least 10 days after four new cases of suspected Sars were discovered among health staff.

Origins of virus

The WHO has voiced concern that many poor and rural areas of China with only rudimentary healthcare face much less scrutiny.

People in China's poor provinces tend not to visit the doctor because it is too expensive or because there is no doctor. Health experts say the virus may therefore never be fully eradicated.

It is believed to have originated in China's southern Guangdong province in November.

The WHO has identified the coronavirus - a virus family which causes the common cold - as the cause of Sars.

But Canadian heath officials have cautioned that it may not be the only cause of the disease.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Adan Brookes reports from Beijing
"In China, the spread of the Sars virus may have only just begun"



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