Asia looks to containing SARS
China reports six more SARS deaths Saturday in Beijing
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Health ministers from Asian nations gathered in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on Saturday to discuss ways to stem the global SARS outbreak -- with a focus on restrictions on travelers.
One proposal called for all Asian countries to adopt strict pre-travel health checks of passengers at airports and seaports. Another recommended travel bans for people suspected of having the virus.
SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, has killed more than 270 people and infected about 4,600 in 28 countries as far apart as China and Canada.
Malaysian Health Minister Chua Jui Meng expressed special concern about the effect of SARS on hospital workers.
"The presence of the concentration of cases in previously healthy hospital staff and the proportion of patients requiring intensive care are particularly alarming," he said.
"This 21st century disease could have other consequences as well. Should SARS continue to spread, the global economic consequences could be great in a closely interconnected and interdependent world," the health minister said.
The conference is being billed as a crossroads for developing consistent policies among countries.
Vietnam -- which has recorded 63 cases including five deaths -- will become the first country to contain the SARS outbreak if it reaches the end of the month without a new case, the World Health Organization said Saturday.
No new cases of SARS have been detected in the country since April 8, WHO said. April 30 would mark two incubation periods without a new case.
In an attempt to keep the disease from entering the country, Vietnam's northern Quang Ninh province recently began barring Chinese tourists at its land border with China.
The SARS virus comes from the same family as the common cold, and as yet there is no cure for the disease.
It is thought to have originated in southern China in November, but has spread around the world quickly thanks to the ease of air travel.
More SARS deaths in China
In China, which has recorded the vast majority of cases so far, the Health Ministry reported six more SARS deaths Saturday in Beijing, taking the total number of fatalities to 48 in the city.
There were 113 more confirmed cases reported, increasing that total to 988 in the capital city. More than 4,000 people have been quarantined. Nationwide in China, there are 122 deaths and more than 2,700 confirmed cases.
CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver reported a somber, tense mood in Beijing and continued congestion at toll gates where motorists' temperatures were being taken and vehicles were sprayed with disinfectant.
The National People's Congress voted Saturday to replace Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang with Vice Premier Wu Yi, who will serve in both posts.
Zhang was dismissed from his Communist Party post last weekend, after the government was criticized for failing to respond fast enough to stem the disease and for underreporting the number of cases. Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong also was dismissed.
Next week, SARS also is expected to be a key topic at a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, for heads of state.
Canada says WHO to review advisory
Canadian health officials said Friday that the World Health Organization has agreed to review its travel advisory urging that nonessential travel to Toronto be delayed until the SARS outbreak there has abated.
As of Friday, Health Canada was reporting 341 probable or suspect cases of SARS in the country in addition to 18 SARS deaths. Another 663 Canadians were in quarantine.
All cases that have occurred in Canada since April 9 have affected health workers who were contacts of known cases, even though the health workers are typically equipped with face masks, goggles, double-thickness gloves and double-thickness gowns.
In a show of support for Toronto, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said his Cabinet will meet Tuesday in the city instead of Ottawa.
He also announced that the Canadian government will contribute $10 million toward a marketing campaign to boost the image of Toronto, where tourism has been crippled by SARS fears.