The number of SARS (search) cases in China passed 5,000 on Monday, while Taiwan recorded eight deaths and a record jump in infections and a hospital boss was fired for allegedly covering up an outbreak.

As grim statistics rolled in, the World Health Organization (search) visited a poor and medically backward Chinese province that could be fertile ground for a future, and potentially devastating, epidemic. Four ritzy hotels in Shanghai, including its historic Peace Hotel, closed temporarily for lack of guests.

"The situation is serious and the tasks are tremendous," Chinese President Hu Jintao (search) was quoted as saying by state television. "We must be prepared for the worst."

Highlighting the disease's global nature, Canadian officials angrily rejected suggestions that a Finnish man contracted SARS in Toronto, a city which insists its outbreak is under control.

And Nigeria was screening incoming visitors for signs of the disease on Monday after a Taiwanese businessman died of suspected SARS in the west African nation.

Health officials believed the man — who died Feb. 28 — had been in contact with about 30 Nigerians in Kano and Lagos, the country's biggest city. All have been placed under medical surveillance and six developed "flu-like symptoms" but fully recovered, Nigeria's health minister Alphonsus Nwosu said.

In Malaysia, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pressed on with a Southeast Asian tour with a drastically reduced entourage after strong last-minute pressure not to go because of SARS.

"I said 'go away' to all those people who said 'you can't go.' My wife ended up understanding, and I hope other people will understand it also," he said.

Schroeder described the SARS threat as a "theoretical danger" compared with the certain "political damage" that would have resulted from canceling the four-nation tour at short notice.

Monday's fatalities in Taiwan, as well as 12 more in China and three in Hong Kong, brought the international death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome to at least 559. There were at least 7,400 known SARS cases.

China remains the hardest hit country with at least 252 dead.

Although some Chinese infection rates, particularly in Beijing, have been declining, Monday's 75 cases raised the mainland's tally to 5,013.

Thousands of people have been quarantined amid fears that the disease is spreading from cities into the impoverished countryside, where medical facilities would not be able to cope with a sweeping outbreak

WHO visited the southern Guangxi province, fearing it could be hit by an epidemic that could possibly be brought in by hundreds of thousands of returning migrant workers.

"Guangxi is susceptible to infection because of its location," WHO spokeswoman Mangai Balasegaram said. "It's a poor region. It would be ... less able to cope."

Taipei's city government dismissed the president of a public hospital that was sealed off on April 24 to contain a SARS outbreak. He and at least one other doctor are accused of misdiagnosing SARS cases or not reporting infections.

Taiwan's tally stood at 27 fatalities and 207 cases of infection. It also reported 23 new cases on Monday — its worst one-day jump since its outbreak began two months ago.

One death, that of a dentist in the southern city of Kaohsiung, proved that the disease was heading south across the island from Taipei.

Officials said the man had a history of tuberculosis and that he might contracted SARS from one of his patients.

Meanwhile, officials are worried because they haven't been able to trace at least six SARS patients to previous cases, said the vice chairman of Taiwan's SARS Control and Relief Committee, Dr. Lee Ming-liang.

This suggested SARS has spread to the public at large. In the past, transmission has usually been traced through family members or others who had close contact with known SARS cases.

Morning commuters started the working week by complying with a government order to wear masks on Taipei's subway. Also, authorities are installing video cameras to keep watch over about 8,000 people quarantined in their homes in case they have contracted the illness.

For more than a week Hong Kong has reported falling infection rates, including only five new cases on Monday. Encouraged by this, the WHO said it might ease conditions for removing a travel advisory against the territory, although the ban itself will stay for now.

In Finland, the University of Turku Central Hospital said a Finnish man who had been on vacation in SARS-hit Toronto in late April had probably contracted the illness.

It said the patient was recovering well, and that no one who had been in contact with him had shown any of the disease's symptoms: fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Dr. Colin D'Cunha, health commissioner in Ontario province, said the idea of a Toronto link was "preposterous."

"I'm sure the (Finnish patient) had some respiratory symptoms and, simply put, was diagnosed with SARS because the person had spent some time in Toronto."

In Malaysia, where two people have died of the illness, officials said a 10-day quarantine will be imposed on students and workers arriving from SARS-affected areas.

In Hong Kong, about 250,000 primary students headed back to class Monday after a six-week school closure. High school students resumed studies recently.

South Korea on Monday reported its second case of SARS after an American man in his 80s showed symptoms of the disease after arriving the previous day from the Philippines.

The Asian Development Bank said it will help the region's economies better fight the SARS virus with up to US$27 million in grants and reallocated loans.