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He doesn't have much time. Some China watchers predict that former President Jiang Zemin, who continues to exert influence over the party, will try to shove Hu aside if the government fails to contain the epidemic and China's economy stumbles. There's little cause for optimism on either count. Citigroup economists have lowered the projected growth rate of China's economy this year from 7.6% to 6.5% as a result of the SARS scare. Meanwhile, the virus is picking up steam in the impoverished hinterlands, where public awareness of the risks of SARS is limited and hospitals lack the resources to treat an outbreak. In Shanxi province, just southwest of Beijing, eight patients have died, and overcrowded hospitals are turning patients away. Locals have begun to express openly their disgust with official denials of the size of the epidemic. Says the relative of one victim: "It is really bad that the government doesn't care about ordinary people's lives." No matter how long it takes for China to overcome SARS, that's an indictment from which the country's rulers may never recover. --With reporting by Matthew Forney/Guangzhou and Susan Jakes and Huang Yong/Beijing
The emergency room at Toronto's Scarborough Grace hospital was, as usual, overwhelmed and understaffed when a man arrived the night of March 7. The triage nurse who first looked at Tse Chi Kwai, 43, immediately escorted him into the E.R. "He had a fever and a cough, and he was having a hard time catching his breath," says Jane Eckersall, 26, the principal nurse who treated Tse that evening. "And he looked scared." Tse had reason to be. On March 5, his mother died at home after suffering what had been diagnosed as a chest infection. A day before her death, Tse had come down with the same symptoms she had, and now the mysterious illness seemed to be spreading to the rest of his family.
Tse had SARS, from which he died on March 13, and he was about to set off a chain reaction that would infect 138 Ontario residents, leave a total of 20 dead and force more than 10,000 people into quarantine over a four-week period. How could the situation in Toronto--a center of advanced medicine--have gone so wrong so quickly? Bad luck explains most of Toronto's tale, but not all of it. As a TIME investigation has found, medical staff members early on missed key opportunities that, if taken, might have drastically slowed the spread of the disease.
The story begins with an elderly Toronto couple who spent 10 days in Hong Kong. Kwan Sui-chu, 78, and her husband began a visit to the city on Feb. 13 and stayed one night at the Metropole Hotel. Kwan almost certainly had a chance encounter there with a retired Chinese nephrologist named Liu Jianlun, who, it turns out, had SARS. After her return to Toronto on Feb. 23, Kwan passed the disease to members of her family, including her son Tse. At Scarborough Grace, he was placed in a corner bed of the E.R.'s observation ward. Next to him was Joseph Pollack, 76, who had been complaining of an irregular heartbeat. That night Pollack almost certainly got SARS, as did another man in the room, a coronary patient whom authorities refer to as Mr. D., 77. Both Pollack and Mr. D. would infect many others.