UK Conservatives Call for SARS Screening

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - Britain's Conservative Party called Wednesday for vulnerable people to be screened for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that travelers delay all nonessential trips to Toronto and parts of China.

Conservative health spokesman Dr. Liam Fox said he supported selective quarantines of children returning from areas with high rates of infection.

"I have just returned from intensive discussions with senior health officials in Australia about the SARS crisis," he said. "It is vital that we should not be complacent in the face of what is a very serious illness."

WHO doctors say that SARS is a mutant form of the corona virus, the bug that causes the common cold.

"We have been lucky not to have had more cases in the U.K.," Fox said. "The best way to reduce the risk to the British people is to screen thoroughly those who are likely to be at the highest risk of infection."

The British government has recommended that travelers be vigilant and avoid travel to affected areas. But some U.K. boarding schools have gone further than that and moved to isolate pupils from Hong Kong and China who returned to Britain for classes after the Easter break.

Last week, more than 150 pupils from Hong Kong who attend 32 private schools in the U.K. were placed in quarantine at activity camps in southern England. Some schools have banned students from attending class if they have visited the worst-affected areas within the previous 10 days.

The move angered the Hong Kong government, which called the quarantine "unnecessary."

Six cases of SARS have been reported in the U.K. None of these cases has resulted in death, and the WHO said that only "limited local transmission" has occurred in London.

Travel Advisory

Also on Wednesday, the Geneva-based WHO said that as a precautionary measure, travelers should consider postponing visits to Toronto, Beijing and Shanxi province in China.

The message follows a similar warning earlier this month advising against travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong province in southern China.

The WHO said the new advice was based on "subsequent information from the Chinese government about the magnitude of the SARS outbreaks."

The WHO and others have criticized Chinese authorities for secrecy surrounding the handling of the outbreak.

The virus, which has been identified as a new disease, first cropped up this past November in Guangdong province.

Chinese journalists were forbidden to write about the disease, and WHO inspectors were for a while not allowed to visit Guangdong.

On Sunday, Chinese authorities fired the national health minister and the mayor of Beijing and acknowledged they had underreported the number of SARS cases and deaths related to the disease.

As of Tuesday, a total of just under 4,000 cases of SARS had been reported to the WHO from 25 different countries. It's estimated that more than 250 people have died of the disease. The outbreak has hit tourism and airline revenue across Southeast Asia.

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