HONG KONG – Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday they would move 240 infected people from a sealed apartment complex to rural quarantine camps, one of a series of new measures by Asian nations to contain a flu-like illness that has killed at least 63 people.
Residents of Block E of the Amoy Gardens Apartment complex were being moved Tuesday night to the camps -- which were previously used for holidays -- one in the suburban New Territories and one in a rural part of Hong Kong island, said Dr. Leung Pak-yin, deputy director of health.
Leung said "environmental factors" in the sealed-off building might be causing the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, but he did not elaborate in a news conference.
There has been speculation a sewage leak might have spread the disease among residents of apartment units at one end of the 33-story building.
Hong Kong officials said Tuesday an additional 75 people were hit by SARS, including 52 from the Amoy Gardens complex. It was not immediately clear how many of the new cases had come from Block E, which was sealed off Monday with barricades and police tape.
Residents were told Monday they would have to stay inside for 10 days, with regular medical checkups and three free meals. They will get the same in the quarantine camps, Leung said, but it was not immediately clear what their living conditions will be like.
Earlier Tuesday, Hong Kong officials said four recreational activity camps could be turned into quarantine centers for 1,000 people, but they were only sending the people from Amoy Gardens to two of them.
Hong Kong on Tuesday night reported another death of SARS patient, for 16 total here and at least 63 worldwide. Out of more than 1,600 SARS cases globally, 685 have been in Hong Kong.
Across Asia, nations were taking steps to contain the spread of the illness for which there is still no cure. Its initial symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.
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.
In Singapore's airports, nurses examining arriving passengers said they had intercepted at least seven suspected cases of SARS in less than 24 hours.
Seven nurses clad in yellow hospital gowns and surgical masks were the first to greet passengers on a flight from Beijing as soon as they stepped into the terminal from the boarding bridge, as airport officials gave reporters a glimpse at the new measures.
Singapore's Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang has said that the disease likely entered the island nation through the airport. All of Singapore's 92 reported cases of SARS can be traced back to five people who had traveled to Hong Kong. Four
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.
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 banned boats from sailing between an outlying island chain and mainland China, where the disease was first detected in southern Guangdong province in November.
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.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair postponed his trip to China, the Chinese government said, but denied it had anything to do with SARS.
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."