SARS outbreak in Canada easing; Thailand reports 9th case

Friday, June 6th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) -- Only a dribble of new SARS cases were reported Friday in the world's hardest hit areas -- China, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- while the outbreak in Canada's biggest city appeared to be following the global trend of remission.

But Thailand, which has been unscathed by the epidemic, reported a new case of infection, only its ninth.

A World Health Organization official said Thursday the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome was "over its peak" around the world, including in China, which has suffered the highest toll, with 338 deaths.

In all, the contagious lung disease has killed at least 778 of the more than 8,300 people infected since the virus emerged in southern China in November.

China's daily figures have hovered in single digits for more than a week, dropping from a high of 150 cases a day. China on Friday reported two new SARS deaths and one case.

Hong Kong's daily reports of infections have been in single digits for more than a month. It announced two new cases on Friday, and two fatalities, pushing its toll to 286.

In Taiwan, two medical workers tested positive for SARS at a hospital that had yet to report any cases. In the past week, the island's daily tally of new cases has been in the single digits and no fatalities have been reported in nine days, keeping the death toll at 81.

Toronto, meanwhile, lowered its death toll by one Thursday and health officials reported SARS again appeared to be in remission.

A 60-year-old man who died May 20 was found to have died of other causes. Two other recent SARS deaths -- one among the 31 listed in Toronto -- also were being reviewed.

Canada's largest city thought it had the illness under control but an undiagnosed case at North York General Hospital led to a further spread among other patients, family members and health care workers.

In Thailand, a 38-year-old Thai woman was diagnosed as having SARS after returning from Taiwan where she worked as a laborer. She was admitted to a Thai hospital May 29 with a cough, sore throat, fever and aches.

Another 19 people who came in contact with the woman are under the care of public health officials, but none has shown any symptoms of SARS, the health ministry said.

In China, meanwhile, authorities in northern Hebei province have detained at least 180 members of Falun Gong -- condemned by the communist government as an "evil cult" -- on charges of sabotaging anti-SARS work, the main Communist Party newspaper said Friday.

The crackdown reportedly began in mid-April at about the time officials ordered tougher measures to control SARS.

The report didn't give any details of SARS-prevention work that was allegedly disrupted by the activists. But it cited an incident in which a Falun Gong activist gave workers at an anti-SARS health checkpoint a booklet on Falun Gong that he said contained "the secret route to SARS prevention."

Falun Gong was banned in 1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule. The group had attracted millions of adherents with its mix of eastern philosophy, meditation and traditional calisthenics.

JOE McDONALD Associated Press riter

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