TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan insisted Tuesday that its SARS crisis was ebbing and faulted the World Health Organization (search) for saying it hasn't peaked yet, while Hong Kong researchers said a vaccine for the respiratory disease is ready for testing on animals.
In signs that normal life was returning in the worst-hit Chinese mainland, airlines were restoring flights canceled during a plunge in travel due to SARS fears, and traffic accidents surged in Beijing as drivers returned to the streets.
But while new infections were decreasing just about everywhere, severe acute respiratory syndrome continued to kill some of those already infected, including a health care assistant in Hong Kong, the territory's fourth frontline hospital worker felled by the disease.
The global toll Tuesday was at least 735, with Taiwan also reporting four new deaths. Since emerging in November in southern China, the virus has infected more than 8,200 people worldwide.
Yuen Kwok-yung, head of the University of Hong Kong's (search) Department of Microbiology, said an activated strain of the SARS coronavirus was now ready to be tested in animals as a tentative vaccine.
The preliminary results will be known in six months, but there were no plans at present for human testing, he said in a statement.
In Singapore, animal lovers scurried to save stray cats being killed in a government cleanliness campaign aimed at combatting SARS. Animal Lovers League said its members were sending the rescued animals to a shelter in neighboring Malaysia.
Two Japanese doctors were in Taiwan to study why SARS spread so quickly here — an economically developed society similar to Japan's. Japan has no confirmed SARS cases but is concerned the virus could hit there next.
"We are standing in the same boat," one of the visiting physicians, said Hiroshi Noguchi of Narita Red Cross Hospital.
Taiwanese Health chief Chen Chien-jen said WHO officials have recently said the island's outbreak has yet to stabilize. "We want to firmly insist that this is an inaccurate view," Chen told reporters at a daily SARS briefing.
As the number of new infections continued to drop during the past four days, Taiwanese officials have become more confident that they have a grip on SARS. They have begun urging people to resume their normal routines.
In hard-hit Beijing, life was returning to normal following anti-SARS efforts that closed schools and public facilities and prompted thousands of families to flee the city or stay at home. Traffic accidents jumped 17 percent last week from the previous week as drivers returned.
Airlines were restoring flights on the key Beijing-Guangzhou route that was slashed in half after the government tried to contain the virus by discouraging travel. The world's first SARS case was detected in Guangzhou in November.
China has been reporting falling numbers of new cases, though the WHO says it is too early to declare China's outbreak under control.
WHO put Canada's largest city back on its list of SARS-affected places on Monday, after health officials in Toronto (search) reported eight new cases and 26 suspected cases in clusters linked to four hospitals.
Four days after the WHO lifted a SARS travel warning for Hong Kong that had been in place for more than a month, the city announced plans to build the world's biggest Chinese drum to symbolize Hong Kong's "rebirth."
"Drums are traditionally used to drive away evil spirits, illnesses and other bad things," said spokeswoman Anissa Tong of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, which plans to prepare the drum for a festival in July.
In other SARS developments:
— Taiwan's second-biggest airline, EVA Airways Corp., said Tuesday it will cut back flights to Japan next month because SARS continues to dampen demand for air travel.
— A lion was killed and two tigers injured in brawls at a Chinese zoo that says it can't afford to feed them due to a slump in visitors amid SARS fears. The animals were killed and injured in brawls in Xiamen Haicang Wild Animal Park in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen.
— In Linzhou, a city in China's Henan province, six people were sentenced from one to 3½ years in prison for leading an attack on a disease-control office after hearing it was to house SARS patients, a court official said Tuesday.