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Taiwan Probes Underreporting of SARS

June 13, 2003

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Taiwanese officials began investigating Friday whether the island has been underreporting SARS deaths, while Canada was accused of failing to tell a U.S. traveler he was exposed to the virus before returning home.

Meanwhile, the world’s two biggest SARS hotspots _ China and Hong Kong _ reported no new cases Friday. But Hong Kong said a pair of women, aged 70 and 73, died from severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Getting an accurate count of SARS cases and deaths has been an ongoing source of controversy in many places affected by the hard-to-diagnose illness.

Taiwanese media have published numerous reports questioning the Health Department’s calculation of the island’s SARS totals, which stand at 81 deaths and 693 cases.

Some reports have said scores of fatalities weren’t accurately classified during the outbreak’s early stages _ claims officials have disputed.

On Friday, the government’s official watchdog body, the Control Yuan, was examining a large discrepancy between SARS numbers compiled by the Health Department and local governments, said Chao Chang-ping, a member of the body.

Although the Health Department says SARS has killed 81 people on the island, local governments have reported cremating 363 bodies, including suspected and confirmed SARS cases, Chao said.

So far, SARS has killed 794 people worldwide and has infected more than 8,400. China has reported 5,328 cases and 344 deaths, while Hong Kong has a death toll of 293 and 1,755 infections.

Canada said the World Health Organization was ready to cite the country for failing to notify an American visitor that he was exposed to SARS before returning home.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diagnosed the American man with probable SARS _ more than three weeks after he visited a patient at a Toronto geriatric facility.

Canadian health officials say the man likely caught the illness from another visitor in the same room. He showed no symptoms until after he returned home to North Carolina.

With 33 deaths and 238 cases, Canada is the hardest-hit country outside of Asia.

Dr. Paul Gully, a federal health official in Canada, said the nation was adopting a tougher quarantine law that give health officials more authority over airlines transporting people to and from the country.

Under the regulations, airlines would be required to distribute SARS information cards and questionnaires on incoming flights before they land, a practice which is currently voluntary, Gully said.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, experts from 10 countries and WHO on Friday studied ways to prevent future SARS outbreaks and reviewed progress in battling the dangerous virus.

Update hourly