SINGAPORE – Singapore authorities stepped up efforts to contain a deadly new virus Saturday, including issuing electronic wrist tags to keep track of those under quarantine.
Reports Saturday of nine more deaths worldwide brought the death toll from Severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS to at least 125 in 20 countries. The virus, which has sickened over 2,700, has no known cure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, coughing and body aches.
In Singapore, where 558 people are under home quarantine, the government issued its first electronic wrist tags, which sound an alarm and issue an alert to a monitoring station if a person breaks the bracelet or leaves the house.
The measures were taken as police appealed for information on the whereabouts of Li Zhong Ying, a 33-year-old Chinese immigrant showing symptoms of SARS who escaped four days ago while she was under quarantine in Singapore.
In Canada, site of the largest outbreak of SARS outside of Asia, three more people were killed. The new death reports, all in the Toronto area, brought the Canadian toll to 13, health officials said Saturday. Canada has recorded a total of 274 probable and suspected cases of SARS.
Also Saturday, officials reported a British Columbia laboratory became the first to complete the genetic sequencing of the coronavirus believed to be causing severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
WHO spokesman Dick Thompson in Geneva called the achievement "an extraordinary step," the Canadian Press reported.
In China, two more people died, raising the country's death toll to 60. The official Xinhua News Agency said the two died Friday and were among 10 cases of SARS in Inner Mongolia, the latest Chinese region to report cases.
In Hong Kong, authorities on Saturday said three more people died, raising its death toll to 35, while officials in Vietnam said a 69-year-old French doctor succumbed to the illness, bringing the death toll there to five.
Authorities throughout Asia were trying to stop the disease from taking a further toll on their economies.
But their efforts may have come too late.
Foreign buyers, uneasy about SARS, were canceling plans to attend China's biggest trade fair this month in the southern city of Guangzhou in Guangdong, where the disease is believed to have originated.
Last year, the Chinese Export Commodities Fair drew more than 120,000 visitors who signed deals totaling nearly $17 billion, according to organizers. But the World Health Organization and foreign governments are warning travelers to avoid Guangzhou.
"It's really tragic. Cancellation faxes on my desk are now piled up above my shoulder," said a travel agent in Guangzhou, adding that the cancellations have come from "almost every country in the world."
Hong Kong and China have reported the highest number of deaths and cases.
To fight the perception that Hong Kong is spreading the disease to other countries, authorities were discussing how to take the temperature of every passenger on departing flights , Health Department spokeswoman Eva Wong said. Some 1,108 people in Hong Kong have fallen ill with the disease.
About a million people departed from Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport in January, the latest figures available.
In Singapore, meanwhile, authorities have moved SuperStar Virgo, a luxury cruise line owned by Malaysia's Star Cruises with 13 quarantined crew on board to a designated dock on Sisters' Island, a few miles south of the city-state. No passengers were aboard.
In Singapore, nine people have died and 147 have been sickened from the disease. Vietnam, Canada, Malaysia and Thailand have also reported deaths.