Taiwan reports new case of SARS

China and the World Health Organization (WHO) are keeping close eye on the development of the SARS situation and laboratory safety on the Chinese mainland and in Taiwan, where a new SARS case was reported Wednesday, officials said.

A 44-year-old man who was studying SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) at the National Defence University in Taiwan has reportedly contracted SARS and was transferred to a hospital equipped to handle SARS cases yesterday.

The Taiwan Centre for Disease Control informed WHO's Geneva headquarters of the case in an "appropriately timely'' fashion, Bob Dietz, spokesman for the WHO Beijing Office told China Daily yesterday.

"Our headquarters is following the case with interest and receiving regular updates,'' said Dietz.

The Information Office of the Ministry of Health said yesterday that Beijing is paying close attention to the new case in Taiwan and has been maintaining a high state of vigilance for any evidence of a renewed outbreak of the disease all along.

Wednesday's daily epidemic surveillance report from the ministry shows that China has not found any new suspected or confirmed SARS cases since the disease subsided last June.

WHO accepts the Chinese Government's reported figures, Dietz noted.

However, the information office also said in a document that the case in Taiwan has rung an alarm bell for the Chinese mainland's SARS prevention campaign.

The Ministry of Health has asked all institutes with SARS virus samples to tighten safety procedures in handling the samples and protecting the safety of researchers.

No country can be 100 per cent ready, but WHO acknowledges the thoroughness of the work China has done so far, and is convinced of the government's commitment to protecting the people of China and the rest of the world if SARS returns to the Chinese mainland, Dietz said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science and Technology is drafting a new regulation for biology laboratory management to raise safety levels in the research on viruses, including the SARS virus, said Yang Zhe, a health and medicine division director of the ministry.

Yang's ministry, which is in charge of managing all the SARS virus research laboratories in the country, has held training classes for safety management and self-protection for all biology laboratory researchers, including those handling the SARS virus before October, said Tao Jinsong, an official from the ministry.

The infected Taiwan researcher attended a conference in Singapore on December 7 and developed a fever on December 10 after returning to Taiwan, Taiwan CDC officials said.

He thought he only had the flu, but on Tuesday went to a Taipei hospital where an X-ray showed he had pneumonia. He was then tested for SARS, and the results were positive, a statement from the Taiwan CDC said.

This is the first case since WHO removed Taiwan from its list of SARS-infected areas on July 5.

Taiwan had not reported new SARS cases since June. It reported 37 people being killed directly by the disease and another 37 deaths related to SARS earlier this year in the province.

In another development, the Chinese mainland is willing to enhance co-operation with Taiwan against the possible return of SARS, Li Weiyi, spokesman with the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said yesterday at a press conference on China's policy on direct links in mail, transport and trade across the Taiwan Straits.

Singapore's health ministry said yesterday that it has issued quarantine orders on 70 people who may have come into contact with the Taiwanese SARS patient.

The 70 people were requested to undergo home quarantine until tomorrow and will be monitored three times a day by telephone, the statement said. (China Daily news)

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