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SARS shuts Taiwan emergency room

From Mike Chinoy, CNN Senior Asia Correspondent

A soldier is disinfected after a team of 90 troops cleaned out Taipei's Hoping Hospital.
A soldier is disinfected after a team of 90 troops cleaned out Taipei's Hoping Hospital.

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Taiwan reports a sharp increase in SARS cases, and the government is taking strict steps to reduce the potential for infection.
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- The SARS situation in Taiwan is continuing to deteriorate after the island's most prestigious hospital shut its emergency room because of a spike in cases.

With fears infected patients were skipping quarantine and adding to the outbreak, police in the capital Taipei have also been given the power to check they e are observing their restrictions.

The hospital at National Taiwan University will remain shut until at least May 26, which will see it through the typical 10-day SARS incubation period.

Hospital officials made the decision after 16 employees, including medical workers and cleaning staff, displayed SARS symptoms. About 250 staff members at the hospital are now in quarantine.

As of Wednesday, Taiwan had 238 confirmed cases of the disease, with 30 deaths.

The hospital has been overwhelmed with patients coming to the emergency room seeking symptoms for fever, which is one of the tell-tale signs of the disease. Most of them did not have SARS, hospital authorities said.

The shutdown at the Taipei facility follows an outbreak at a leading hospital in Kaosiung Taiwan's second-largest city, where more than 100 people are quarantined.

Police checks

Taipei's mayor said police will now be assigned to check up on people who have been ordered to stay at home in quarantine, and authorities will begin phoning people in the evenings to be sure they are still at home.

People breaking quarantine has been one of the problems Taiwan authorities have had in dealing with SARS.

SARS has created great nervousness in Taiwan.

Citizens increasingly wear masks, and travelers on the Taipei subway are subject to fines if they aren't wearing them. Taxi drivers also wear masks and drive with their windows down.

Many who enter public buildings are asked to have their temperature taken.

SARS outbreaks have happened on different parts of the island, making it more difficult to control.

It is increasingly clear that SARS spread more rapidly following an apparent cover-up at Taipei's municipal Hoping Hospital, which officials are now investigating.

There have also been repeated complaints about disorganization and confusion among different elements of the bureaucracy, including the Ministry of Health, the prime minister's office, and the president's office.

Li Min-Liang, the former minister of health, has now taken charge of the task force that is combating SARS and has begun to make some important moves to streamline and focus the effort, and acquire the resources necessary to fight the disease.

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