BEIJING – Elementary and middle schools in Beijing will remain closed for two more weeks to slow the spread of SARS (search), affecting over 1 million students, China said Sunday, and Taipei's mayor warned that violators of home quarantine orders would be punished.
Two doctors from the World Health Organization (search) arrived in Taiwan (search) to help the island cope with its worsening SARS outbreak, after China's government put aside politics and agreed to the visit. The number of probable SARS cases in Taiwan has tripled in the past 10 days to 116, and there have been eight fatalities -- including five announced Friday.
Thirteen new SARS deaths were reported Sunday in east Asia -- seven in mainland China, five in Hong Kong and one in Singapore. The number of new cases in Hong Kong was just eight, following a trend of declines in the territory.
Globally, SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has killed at least 449 people and sickened more than 6,300.
A Malaysian freighter heading for mainland China from Thailand made an emergency stop in Hong Kong on Sunday after 10 Indian sailors aboard complained of SARS-like symptoms.
Health officials in full-body protective gear boarded the Bunga Melawis Satu, which was moored off a remote Hong Kong island. But the sick seamen underwent tests and doctors said they were clear of SARS.
Meanwhile, hospital officials said none of the 12 people in Hong Kong who had recovered but then got sick again had SARS relapses, as had been feared earlier.
Eight already have been discharged, and although the patients reported symptoms -- including fevers -- that are common in SARS victims, all were sick with something else, said Dr. Liu Shao-haei, senior executive manager of the Hospital Authority.
China's official Xinhua News Agency, in announcing the decision to keep schools in Beijing closed, said authorities planned to hold correspondence classes for students via television and the Internet.
The schools, which were closed about two weeks ago, were scheduled to reopen May 7, provided the SARS outbreak was under control.
In addition to the seven deaths, China also reported 163 new SARS cases Sunday, the smallest number in the past week. The mainland's total number of infections stands at 4,125.
Taipei's mayor warned Sunday that violators of quarantine orders will be punished, after a high school student who broke quarantine to attend a tutoring school became ill with SARS-like symptoms, forcing the school's closure.
"Home quarantine is a serious matter," Taiwan Mayor Ma Ying-jeou said. "We will not allow anyone to ignore the order. They must be punished."
More than 14,000 Taiwanese have been ordered quarantined at home. Anyone caught violating home quarantine orders will be sent to a quarantine center in a military camp, Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien said Sunday.
China agreed Saturday to let WHO doctors visit Taiwan after initially rejecting its offer of help for the island.
China and Taiwan split in 1949, and Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory. It has blocked Taiwan's efforts to join the U.N. agency.
In Australia, a Qantas flight attendant was being treated at a Sydney hospital for suspected SARS, a hospital spokesman said Sunday.
Australia's national carrier said it was contacting more than 350 passengers and crew who flew with her from Singapore last Sunday.
Despite the new deaths and cases, there were encouraging developments in the search for a cure.
Scientists at the U.S. Army's biodefense labs in Maryland have discovered one category of antiviral drugs already available in pharmacies that has shown promising results -- the natural infection-fighting protein interferon.
Another type of drugs called protease inhibitors -- chemical cousins of medicines used against AIDS -- also stopped the SARS virus in initial laboratory tests.
On Saturday, soccer's governing body, FIFA, said the Women's World Cup will be moved from China because of SARS. The event was to be held there from Sept. 23 to Oct. 11.
The announcement followed cancelations of the women's ice hockey world championship and the track cycling world championships in Asia.