SARS Soars: Death Toll Passes 150

A waitress takes orders from customers, as they wearing surgical masks at a Hong Kong restaurant Tuesday, April 15, 2003, as a precaution against a mysterious flu-like illness that has killed at least 47 people in the territory and sickened more than 1,190 others.
The SARS crisis deepened Tuesday as Hong Kong reported nine more deaths, pushing the global toll past 150 as U.S. experts warned the just-revealed genetic code for the disease doesn't explain how it started or how to stop it.

Doctors were able to save the baby of a dying 34-year-old pregnant woman by Caesarean section, hospital officials said. It was not clear when the birth took place or what condition the baby was in.

Asia stepped up the struggle to beat back the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, and Canadian authorities announced they have identified a new cluster of cases among mourners who went to a victim's funeral.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention said gene sequencing will help create accurate diagnostic tests and increases the chance that a drug or vaccine will be found to defeat the virus, but that could take weeks or even months in some cases.

At least 153 people have died of SARS, which has infected more than 3,000. Most victims have been in Asia.

In other developments:

  • Mainland China has reported 64 deaths, Hong Kong 56, Canada 13 and Singapore 12, including two suspected fatalities. Vietnam has had five deaths, Thailand two and Malaysia one.
  • In Canada, health officials said they had linked 31 possible SARS cases, including members of a religious community and two physicians, to the April 1 funeral of a victim of the pneumonia-like disease.
  • The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, representing 17 major airlines in the region, said its members have canceled about 650 flights a week in April. It called SARS the industry's worst crisis ever.
  • In Kuala Lumpur, the Sun newspaper warned that Malaysia could lose around $53 million a month in tourism revenues because of tough new anti-SARS visa rules.
  • In Vietnam, the military was ordered to decontaminate the capital's only international hospital, where the country's SARS outbreak began. Officials said the Hanoi French Hospital would reopen in June.
  • In Taiwan, the government offered to reduce aircraft landing and other charges to help cash-strapped airlines.
  • In Singapore, the government told companies badly affected by SARS to cut salaries rather than lay off workers.
  • Exporters in New Zealand say SARS has dried up the lucrative Asian market for their meat and seafood.
  • The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific postponed its annual ministerial-level conference that was to be held in Bangkok this month, because of concerns over SARS and the war in Iraq.
  • Philadelphia Mayor John Street and some 30 city officials dined in Chinatown on Monday to help promote the neighborhood's restaurants, which have seen fewer customers since the outbreak of SARS. Street said he wanted to convey "a very, very strong positive message" that "it's safe to come into Chinatown."
The nine deaths in Hong Kong, its biggest one-day fatality increase since the SARS outbreak hit the territory last month, pushed its toll to 56.

Four people were in their 30s and 40s with no prior health problems, adding to a worrying number of fit patients not responding to treatment. Most of Hong Kong's fatalities have been elderly people or patients suffering from other chronic medical conditions, such as heart or kidney disease.

In hardest-hit mainland China, the World Health Organization said investigators were seeking permission Tuesday to visit military hospitals in Beijing that are rumored to hold unreported cases.

SARS is thought to have started in southern Guangdong province last November, but its extent in China only became known recently. Chinese officials have been accused of underreporting the crisis, which Premier Wen Jiabao last weekend described as "grave."

He ordered passengers on airlines, trains and boats be screened and on Tuesday state media said buses, taxis and other public facilities would be disinfected.