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SARS death rate rising

Singapore schoolchildren have been given thermometers to monitor their temperatures daily.
Singapore schoolchildren have been given thermometers to monitor their temperatures daily.

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As Beijing mobilizes to fight the spread of SARS, the mayor admits health workers are overwhelmed.
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- The death rate from SARS is rising, according to a senior WHO official, with mainland China accounting for more cases than the rest of the world.

There are now more than 5,600 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome worldwide, with 3,647 of those in China.

As workers neared completion near Beijing of a new 1,000-bed SARS facility, mainland China counted 187 new SARS cases and 11 more deaths on Thursday, the country's ministry of health said. China has now reported 170 deaths.

The head of the WHO's clinical network, Mark Salter, says current death rates are at 6 percent, but could likely reach 10 percent.

The disease is still in its early stages, Salter said, and it was normal for death rates to increase in such circumstances.

In Beijing the city's acting mayor, Wang Qishan, said Wednesday the nation was not fully prepared to cope with the outbreak, and none of the capital's hospitals specializes in respiratory ailments.

Wang said central authorities have brought in medical experts from other provinces and the People's Liberation Army to assist in Beijing's battle against SARS. (SARS 'severe')

Beijing resembles a ghost town with deserted streets, shut shops and restaurants on the edge of bankruptcy. (Gallery: Beijing deserted)

Some 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the capital in Xiaotangsha, 7,000 people are working around the clock to finish the new 1,000-bed SARS hospital in less than two weeks.

After reporters asked whether Chinese officials who tried to cover up the epidemic would face criminal prosecution, the acting mayor hinted that more heads would roll.

Wang's predecessor lost his job over the SARS cover-up, as did other Chinese officials.

"The political causes and implications of the epidemic is beyond my responsibility, but you should have confidence that the central authorities will deal with them firmly," Wang said.

The flu-like disease is believed to have started in southern China late last year.

Around the rest of Asia health officials are battling a variety of SARS-related issues.

In Hong Kong, 12 patients have suffered relapses after it was thought they had recovered and were released from hospital. On Thursday the territory announced five deaths and 11 new cases.

WHO investigators have taken samples from one hard-hit apartment complex known as Amoy Gardens. More than 300 people have been diagnosed with SARS in the block.

Two more people have died in Taiwan from the virus and another death has been reported in Singapore.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday added Taiwan to its list of travel advisory countries, which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Guards outside China's new SARS facility, built in eight days.
Guards outside China's new SARS facility, built in eight days.

In Singapore schools, teachers are distributing the equivalent of $ 2.8 million-worth of digital thermometers. Students will be checked twice daily to detect fevers.

Ten new SARS cases have been reported in India -- a truck driver who returned from Singapore last week and nine hospital staff. No one has died from SARS in India.

Asian leaders have adopted a six-point plan to try and control the outbreak of the deadly respiratory virus. The points are:

The pre-departure and arrival screening of international travelers;

Establishment of an international emergency SARS hotline;

Exchange of information;

Cooperation on research and training;

Meetings to devise other countermeasures to combat SARS; and

Openness and transparency in dealing with the virus.

Elsewhere, the WHO formally lifted its week-long travel advisory for Toronto Wednesday, emphasizing that the city is still an "affected area," but citing the decreasing number of new cases. (Advisory lifted)

In the United States, no deaths have been attributed to SARS, but according to the WHO and the CDC, 11 new probable SARS cases were counted in the U.S. from Tuesday through Wednesday, bringing the national total of cases to 52.

-- CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report


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