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2 new Canadian SARS deaths

Russia confirms first SARS case

Nurses walk through North York General Hospital's new SARS assessment clinic in Toronto.
Nurses walk through North York General Hospital's new SARS assessment clinic in Toronto.

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TORONTO, Canada (CNN) -- Two elderly women died of the SARS virus in the Toronto area overnight, Ontario's commissioner of health, Dr. Colin D'Cunha, reported Wednesday. That brings the total death toll in Canada from the disease to 29.

Canadian officials are forming a temporary alliance among four Toronto-area hospitals in their effort to isolate and control the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

All treatment and expertise related to SARS will be concentrated at the four facilities, allowing the rest of the area's health care system to keep running smoothly during the current flare-up, said Tony Clement, Ontario's minister of health and long-term care.

Toronto was put back on the World Health Organization's list of SARS-affected areas Monday after new cases of the disease were reported.

Canada thought it had contained SARS and declared itself free of the disease a week ago but has found itself struggling with the largest outbreak outside Asia.

As of Tuesday, the new SARS cluster included nine probable and 23 suspect cases, said D'Cunha.

Canadian officials say new cases reported over the weekend have been traced to a 96-year-old man who died May 1 after two bouts of pneumonia that hospital workers did not link to SARS until the new cases emerged.

Russian case has Chinese link

Meanwhile, Russia has confirmed its first case -- a 25-year-old man who lives in a town bordering China.

The ministry of health definitively diagnosed the patient from Blagoveschensk, a town of 170,000 and the capital of Russia's Amur region, on Wednesday. Further testing is planned.

The victim, identified as Denis Soinikov, is a municipal worker who lived in a riverfront hotel frequented by many Chinese nationals.

The river serves as the border between Russian and China, where the largest number of SARS cases have been reported.

Now Russia is to close several crossings along its 2,500 mile (4,000 kilometer) border with China, effective June 4.

Previously, authorities had closed 31 of Russia's 51 border crossings with China and Mongolia and suspended most flights to and from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Those who do travel from the worst-affected SARS areas are screened for signs of the disease upon arrival by doctors.

Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief public health physician, said the victim is the same person he told the Russian parliament about earlier this month.

"The diagnosis is unquestionably atypical pneumonia," he said, using the Russian term for SARS, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Onishchenko cited a blood test for the diagnosis, Interfax reported.

Last week, a doctor expressed concerns about Russia's ability to cope with a possible SARS epidemic.

"The urgent task is to stock up medicine needed for this illness at places in Russia where it is most likely to break out," said Dr. Sergei Kolesnikov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Death toll rising in Asia

Taiwan, one of the hardest hit areas, on Wednesday reported five new SARS deaths, taking the total number of deaths to 81, and 14 probable cases.

Officials on the island said these figures show the outbreak is ebbing after last week's soaring numbers, a view echoed by WHO, which says it is optimistic the situation will improve in coming days.

The global health group attributes the strides forward to anti-SARS measures, including information campaigns and a major screening program.

The island's hospitals have been placed under enormous strain by the disease, and so far three top officials have quit over their handling of SARS.

China has been reporting falling numbers of new cases in the last weeks, announcing its lowest rise of just four probable infections on Wednesday. But the WHO says it is too early to declare China's outbreak under control.

China, the world's hardest-hit area from SARS, has reported more than 5,000 cases and 321 deaths, according to the WHO.

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