TAIPEI, Taiwan – The worldwide death toll from the SARS (search) virus surpassed 700 on Sunday after Taiwan (search) reported 12 new deaths and China reported seven. Still, Taiwan angrily refused rival China's offers of help and scolded Beijing for blocking the island's efforts to join the World Health Organization (search).
"If the Chinese authorities are really concerned about Taiwanese ... they should no longer interfere with Taiwan's attempts to participate in the WHO or other international organizations," Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said, adding that China should keep its medicine to focus on its own SARS outbreak.
Taiwan reported 15 new SARS cases but no deaths Monday, and the health chief in the island's capital resigned over a major outbreak of the virus at a city-run hospital.
Chiu Shu-ti had offered to quit soon after the hospital was sealed off April 24 to contain a large number of infections. Taipei's mayor asked her to stay on, but Chiu was later accused of failing to detect problems at the hospital. She stepped down Sunday night.
China stepped up its own public health campaign, handing out "spit bags" to people in Beijing who can't resist the habit of spitting in streets and on sidewalks.
Lottery ticket vendors and volunteers were distributing more than 20,000 of the plastic-lined bags, the Beijing Evening News reported. Authorities also handed out tissue packets to discourage people from another common practice, blowing their noses into the air.
The 12 new deaths in Taiwan, along with seven in China and four in Hong Kong, brought the worldwide death toll to at least 715. More than 8,100 people have been infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The largest outbreak outside of Asia was in Canada, which officials thought had eradicated SARS. On Sunday, officials said that of 34 suspected cases that emerged last week, eight were probably SARS.
Dr. Colin D'Cunha, chief medical officer of health for Ontario province, said two of those eight patients had died. Another SARS patient dating back weeks also died early Sunday, raising the death toll of the respiratory disease in the Toronto area to 27.
The new cluster in Canada prompted U.S. health officials to issue a new travel alert for Toronto, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, said Canada appeared to be taking the right steps.
"I think when you couple these emerging infections ... you realize how important it is for us as a nation, and an international community, to be prepared," Frist said on Fox News Sunday. "Canada right now does have a problem, but they're acting very quickly to contain it."
Malaysia tried to avoid an outbreak, quarantining 100 sailors on their ship after a crewman with SARS symptoms died. So far, the country has only reported five probable SARS cases, including two deaths.
Taiwan has had one of the fastest-growing rates of infection in recent days, but officials said over the weekend that the virus showed signs of winding down.
"The numbers of new infections have been on the decline, and the illness has been gradually brought under control," said Lee Ming-liang, head of the SARS Control Committee, as he reported three new cases.
The island said its 12 new deaths were compiled over the past three days. So far, Taiwan has reported 72 deaths and 551 cases.
For decades, Taiwan and China have been locked in a political feud, and SARS has further strained relations between the two, which split amid civil war in 1949.
The newest twist in the feud involves Taiwan's efforts to join the WHO -- a campaign China has blocked by arguing that the democratic island isn't an independent country and that it should be ruled by Beijing's communist leadership.
The United States, which is Taiwan's most important friend, has tried to help the island by sending experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last week, one of those specialists, Dr. Chesley L. Richards Jr., developed SARS symptoms and was flown back to Atlanta.
Health officials in Georgia said on Sunday that Richards, an infection control expert, has been classified as the state's eighth suspected SARS case, he said.
CDC spokeswoman Rhonda Smith said Richards is in good condition and is in isolation.
Just days after the WHO lifted a travel advisory against Hong Kong, people started resuming normal activity and began taking off their surgical masks.
Health Director Dr. Margaret Chan told reporters that the government would change its guidelines for wearing masks, saying they were no longer a must in all public places. However, she still advised people to wear masks in crowded areas.