BEIJING – Beijing's new mayor denied speculation that the Chinese capital was about to be sealed off, but admitted Wednesday its hospitals were overloaded with SARS cases. In Hong Kong, some patients have suffered relapses days after doctors declared them recovered.
Throughout east Asia, 20 new deaths from severe acute reported in Hong Kong and two in Taiwan.
In Singapore, children must now pack thermometers in their school bags along with pencils and books so they can check their temperatures twice a day for early detection of SARS (search).
Chinese officials, earlier accused of covering up the extent of SARS, are now battling rumors that they might impose sweeping authoritarian measures to control the illness that they say has killed 159 people.
Wang was appointed Beijing (search) mayor last week after his predecessor was accused of mishandling the crisis and quit. He denied the city of 13 million people would soon be closed off from the rest of the world or dusted with anti-SARS medications by aircraft at night.
"We haven't made any such decisions," he told reporters. "There is no issue of sealing off the city, according to the present situation."
Fears that Beijing might be isolated and martial law declared spread last week after police set up roadblocks to check people in vehicles for SARS symptoms.
In a rare public admission by a senior Chinese official, Wang said the outbreak had overwhelmed 21 Beijing hospitals that have been designated for SARS treatment and there were not enough beds.
"Due to a shortage of berths at designated hospitals, not all suspected SARS patients can be hospitalized there in a timely manner," he said in a written statement distributed at a news conference.
Wang said the SARS outbreak "remains severe" and the number of cases in the city was still high. He described the coming week as "of critical importance."
Beijing has reported 1,448 SARS cases and 8,924 people quarantined. Nine of the new deaths reported Wednesday in China were in the capital.
A special 1,000-bed SARS isolation unit is under construction north of the city, and Wang said the first 195 patients were to be moved in on Wednesday.
In Hong Kong, with a death toll of 157, officials were "very concerned" that 12 people earlier diagnosed as having recovered from SARS later were struck down by it again.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Malik Peiris said relapses are "not a good thing," but they weren't surprising given how little is known about the virus that causes SARS.
In India, a quarantined hospital in the western city of Pune said nine staffers have tested positive for SARS -- bringing the country's caseload to 19, none of them fatal.
In Taiwan, the two people whose deaths were reported Wednesday brought the island's toll to three. They had been staying at a hospital sealed off last week to contain the spread of SARS. Another Taipei hospital was evacuated for disinfecting and its staff and patients quarantined.
In Malaysia, a second patient at a psychiatric hospital died after displaying SARS-like symptoms. The hospital in Kuching on the island of Borneo has been keep in isolation since Sunday.
In the Philippines, which has reported three SARS cases -- two fatal -- the U.S. Embassy began screening people for the disease. The embassy in Manila receives more than 2,000 visitors daily.
In Canada, Toronto tried to get back to normal after the World Health Organization (search) lifted a travel advisory that had been prompted by that city's SARS outbreak.
Its Blue Jays baseball team sold out a game against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night by pricing about 34,000 tickets at 1 Canadian dollar, or 69 U.S. cents.