BEIJING – The SARS crisis surged in Taiwan with eight new fatalities and a record jump in infections Monday, as the World Health Organization (search) visited a poor and medically backward Chinese province that could be fertile ground for a future epidemic.
Highlighting the disease's global nature, Canadian officials angrily rejected suggestions that a Finnish man contracted SARS (search) in Toronto, a city which insists its outbreak is under control.
The world death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome reached at least 559, with the deaths in Taiwan, as well as 12 more in Beijing and three in Hong Kong. There were at least 7,400 known SARS cases.
As new infection rates drop in Beijing, Hong Kong and elsewhere, the disease spread in Taiwan.
New deaths there pushed the island's tally to 27 fatalities and 207 cases of infection. It also reported 23 new cases on Monday -- its worst one-day jump since the outbreak began two months ago.
Despite the statistics, the vice chairman of Taiwan's SARS Control and Relief Committee, Dr. Lee Ming-liang, said some of the cases had taken more than a week to confirm and there were indications the outbreak could still be brought under control.
Authorities also announced the death by suicide of a man with SARS at a Taipei hospital last month. They said he had received erroneous information that his wife had died of the disease.
A dentist in southern Kaohsiung also was one of the new deaths reported Monday, an indication that SARS has spread from northern and central Taiwan to the south.
The man, with a history of tuberculosis, died a week ago, but officials only determined that he died of SARS recently, judging from the rapid deterioration of his health, officials said.
Officials said he might have contracted the illness from one of his patients.
In Taipei, morning commuters started the working week by complying with a government order to wear masks on the city's subway. Also Taiwanese authorities are installing video cameras to keep watch over about 8,000 people quarantined in their homes in case they have contracted the illness.
Meanwhile, the WHO visited southern Guangxi province, fearing it could be hit by an epidemic which could possibly be brought in by hundreds of thousands of returning migrant workers.
Although infection rates in some urban areas, like Beijing are falling, there's a real danger that SARS could spread fast through the countryside. Premier Wen Jiabao has warned of possible unseen "channels of infection" in rural areas without adequate hospitals and doctors.
"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."
On Sunday, China's basketball star Yao Ming (search), who plays for the NBA's Houston Rockets, hosted a telethon for SARS research from his hometown of Shanghai, bringing in more than $300,000.
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.
Officials in Canada, eager to avoid disruptions to its tourism, disputed that there was a Toronto link to the case.
Dr. Colin D'Cunha, health commissioner in Ontario province, said the idea was "preposterous," and that the only way the man could have been infected in Toronto was through SARS patients in a hospital.
"Unless somebody managed to visit one of our hospitals despite the restrictions ... they couldn't have been exposed -- it's that blunt," he said. "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, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder continued with a Southeast Asia tour Monday. Aides to the chancellor said he is not taking any extraordinary precautions regarding his health during his tour.
Separately officials in Kuala Lumpur announced that Malaysia will impose a 10-day quarantine on students and workers arriving from SARS-affected areas.
"This matter is so urgent, which is why we have decided to implement it straightaway," Health Minister Chua Jui Meng said.
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 ethnic Filipino man was placed under quarantine, and officials tried to track other passengers aboard the Asiana Airlines flight OZ372.