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Asia Adopts Quarantines to Prevent Mystery Illness

Asian governments on Tuesday ordered measures ranging from new quarantines to travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of a flu-like illness that has killed at least 62 people.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of people remained quarantined inside a 19-story Hong Kong apartment building after 213 people from the same complex were hospitalized, with 185 showing SARS symptoms.

An official proposed converting rural camps into quarantine centers in Hong Kong, where more than 600 people have been infected and 15 have died.

Gordon Tam, a spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said four such camps are ready if necessary.

In Australia, authorities announced the nation's first case Tuesday -- a man who had been in Singapore where tough quarantine measures are now in place. He has recovered and the illness has not spread, health authorities said.

Health officials in China urged physicians treating cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, to disinfect everything they touch and wear 12-layer surgical masks.

Thailand invoked an emergency regulation to give health officials the authority to quarantine people for up to two weeks arriving travelers suspected of having the illness.

Scientists have yet to identify the disease that has sickened more than 1,600 people, mostly in Asia, and they are working hard to find a cure.

Its initial symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Taiwan banned boats from sailing between an outlying island chain and mainland China, where the disease was first detected in southern Guangdong province in November.

In Canada, where a health emergency has been declared in Ontario province, Toronto authorities reported that at least two children had been hospitalized with the disease, and three others had symptoms.

Taiwan temporarily banned shipping traffic between the Chinese mainland and the Matsu Islands, some 6 miles off China's southern coast -- because the islands' clinics wouldn't be able to cope with a major outbreak, the government said.

Taiwan's known SARS cases remained at 13 Tuesday, while authorities issued more than 800 quarantine orders to people who had come into contact with patients.

Meanwhile, the disease was causing other disruptions.

In Geneva, the World Economic Forum said it has postponed until fall a Beijing meeting of business and government leaders because participants were concerned about the disease.

The Olympic Council of Asia decided to shift the site of its April 22-23 meeting from Vietnam, where four people have died from SARS, to Thailand.

The World Health Organization said researchers hope to pinpoint the cause of the illness soon.

A WHO spokesman said Tuesday that investigators were also still awaiting permission to visit Guangdong where they hope to find clues into the disease's origin and spread.

"The Chinese government has not covered up. There is no need," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Tuesday. "We have nothing to hide."

Barely an hour later, a CNN satellite feed to an apartment compound housing foreigners in Beijing went black during a report on the illness -- something that has happened in the past when the news network reports about the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement or other stories that make the communist government uneasy.

Despite the silence, many Chinese have learned about the disease from foreign broadcasts and the Internet. Pharmacies in Beijing are selling out of surgical masks and report swift sales of herbal remedies often credited with preventing infection.