BEIJING – The subway system in Taiwan's capital became a new front in the war against SARS (search) on Sunday as a top Chinese Communist Party official called for "total victory" against the disease.
Elsewhere, an AIDS researcher said the SARS virus seems to attack human cells in a manner akin to HIV (search), which may offer clues for finding the best treatment against the recently discovered illness.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) went ahead with a Southeast Asian tour despite concerns about the disease, but the delegation accompanying him was cut from 120 to 30. Schroeder flew Sunday to Malaysia.
Worldwide, SARS has killed at least 534 people and infected more than 7,300 people in over 25 countries, including 12 new cases and one death reported Sunday in Taiwan.
In a tough new restriction, all subway passengers in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei now must wear medical masks.
When the measure came into force on Sunday, the usual din of conversation on trains was absent as masked people sat quietly. Many wore baseball hats, apparently hoping to get extra protection against the virus. At train depots, cleaners scrubbed hand rails of cars with bleach-dipped cloths.
Taiwan also is installing video cameras to keep watch over about 8,000 people quarantined in their homes in case they have contracted severe acute respiratory illness.
SARS has killed 19 people, including a nurse on Sunday, and infected 184 in Taiwan, where the transmission pattern is described as high by WHO.
In Beijing, optimistic officials say the capital's outbreak is waning. However, the city's Communist Party secretary talked tough after the World Health Organization complained about holes in patient data.
"We can't allow the slightest relaxation in the fight against SARS in May," the party's People's Daily newspaper quoted Liu Qi as saying.
He ordered officials to "make utmost efforts to fight Beijing's May battle against SARS and obtain total victory in the work of SARS prevention."
The warnings came as China announced five new deaths and 69 cases Sunday -- the lowest one-day increase in new infections in weeks.
New infection rates have dropped dramatically in Beijing in recent days, but WHO says it is too early to declare that its outbreak has peaked. It says Beijing health authorities can't explain how about half of its more than 2,200 SARS patients caught the virus -- an omission in data that hinders attempts to fight its spread.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who ranks third in the party lineup, was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as telling officials to redouble efforts against the disease, warning of unseen "channels of infection."
China remains the hardest hit country with 240 SARS deaths and almost 5,000 infected. Thousands are being kept in quarantine amid fears that the disease is spreading into the impoverished countryside, where medical facilities are ill-equipped to cope.
In Hong Kong, Dr. David Ho, a researcher who helped pioneer a drug "cocktail" treatment for AIDS patients, said there had been promising results from laboratory tests on the SARS virus using an HIV treatment, synthetic peptides. The amino acids slow AIDS in an expensive drug called Fuzeon.
Tests using animals could take place soon. But it was too early to use such medications to treat humans.
"We're not saying this is the drug to treat (SARS) patients tomorrow or next month," said Ho, who is scientific director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York.
In other developments Sunday:
-- In Geneva, the international basketball federation, FIBA, said it might move the July 10-20 junior men's World Championships from Malaysia to the Greek capital, Athens, because of SARS.
-- In the United States, the University of California at Berkeley eased a ban on students from SARS-affected areas of Asia who have enrolled in summer school, but will maintain a ban on nearly 600 students for an English as a second language course.
-- In Hong Kong, where 215 people have died and 1,678 have been infected, warm weather and a falling infection rate has led many people to stop wearing masks. The move was welcomed by business leaders worried about Hong Kong's image.