HONG KONG – Five more patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome have died in Hong Kong, including four who had been in good health before falling ill and failed to respond to treatment that has worked for others, health officials said Sunday.
These deaths raised concerns that the illness was able to kill younger, fitter patients who were previously thought to have a good chance of recovery. Many of Hong Kong's previous SARS victims had also suffered from chronic illnesses such as heart or kidney disease.
"Their situation fluctuated wildly when they were admitted into hospitals," said Dr. Liu Shao-haei, a senior executive of Hong Kong's Hospital Authority, speaking about the five latest victims.
The fitter patients, aged 40, 41, 45 and 52, "just kept deteriorating" despite being placed under intensive care, Liu said. The fifth victim, a 66-year-old woman, had other chronic problems.
Three other SARS fatalities were reported Sunday in Singapore, bringing the global death toll to at least 133 people. About 3,000 people worldwide have been infected, with most of the cases in Asia.
The World Health Organization list of SARS-affected areas includes Beijing, Guangdong and Shanxi provinces in China; Taiwan; Toronto in Canada; Singapore; and Hanoi in Vietnam.
In China, health officials who have been criticized for their initial handling of the disease took reporters on a tour of Beijing hospitals Sunday to show they are ready for further outbreaks.
Also Sunday, Cathay Pacific Airways said one of its executives warned in a memo that its entire passenger fleet could be grounded if traffic keeps falling as the disease hammers Asia's travel industry.
The memo was first reported in local newspapers and confirmed Sunday to The Associated Press by Cathay spokeswoman Rosita Ng.
She would not release the memo. But the South China Morning Post quoted from the document, which was written by Nick Rhodes, Cathay's director of flight operations: "We forecast the number of passengers could fall to less than 6,000 per day in May, in which case we will have to consider grounding the entire passenger fleet."
After the WHO said April 2 that travelers should avoid coming to Hong Kong or neighboring Guangdong province, Cathay's traffic plunged from about 30,000 passengers a day to below 10,000 and the carrier was losing $3 million a day, newspapers reported.
Ng said there were no immediate plans to cease operations. Cathay already has temporarily scrapped 42 percent of its flights, and said "more measures will be implemented" if necessary. The airline also said it has contingency plans to "maintain its services, preserve cash and minimize expenditure."
Hong Kong's Airport Authority said Sunday that traffic at Chek Lap Kok airport has plunged by about a third compared to last year and warned "our core business is under threat."
Even in SARS-free Cambodia, tourism was taking a big hit. In the tourism town of Siem Reap, home to the Angkor temples, hopes of attracting 1 million visitors this year are fading. Siem Reap saw arrivals reach 800,000 last year.
"We have closed some rooms and switched off air conditioners to save energy," said manager Marc Begassat of the luxury Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel, which is only 10 percent to 15 percent occupied.
There were 42 new cases of SARS reported in Hong Kong on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1,150. Of that number, 223 have recovered and been discharged.
Nine of the latest SARS cases were reported in two buildings of a residential complex on Hong Kong Island, following big earlier outbreaks in Kowloon and the suburban New Territories.
It was believed the victims were infected by a patient who wasn't hospitalized until a week after becoming sick, said Deputy Health Director Dr. Lam Ping-yan. Lam said the situation in Hong Kong's Chai Wan district was different from the big outbreak at Amoy Gardens, where about 300 people were infected with the disease, about half of them in one building.
In Manila, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Filipino maids planning to return home from Hong Kong will be checked by doctors at the Philippine consulate in the territory. About 145,000 maids from the Philippines work in Hong Kong.