China saves face with family statement on SARS victim

HONG KONG -- Mainland China saved face Thursday when the family of an American dying from a mysterious respiratory virus confirmed that they had requested he be moved from a mainland hospital to one in Hong Kong.

Officials from the mainland -- already under attack for their secretive handling of the fast-spreading SARS virus -- had been accused of moving the American to avoid another foreign death.

And Hong Kong's health secretary said James Salisbury, a 52-year-old instructor from Utah, was already dead when he arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday.

But Salisbury's eldest daughter in Utah confirmed what Chinese health authorities had said all along.

"We heard the hospital in Hong Kong had specialists that were treating people with SARS and we thought there might be other things that could be done to help him get better," said Michelle Salisbury of Orem, Utah.

She said Salisbury's parents had ordered the change in hospitals and that they were taking advice from a doctor on staff with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in China. She said that doctor had spoken to the physicians at the hospital in Shenzhen, China, and in Hong Kong.

The family knew there was a chance the three-hour ambulance ride between hospitals was risky, she said, but it was a risk the family was willing to take.

Ms. Salisbury said he died of a heart attack in route to Hong Kong.

"I know my father's case was one of the most severe they've seen and that he was in the worst stages of it," she said. "In China they have been able to make some people better, it just didn't work for my father."

She said the hospital in Hong Kong may have initially been reluctant to take him because the facility was already dealing with many other SARS patients.

Hong Kong's health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, told reporters that Salisbury was dead on arrival. David Westbrook, a friend of Salisbury who drove behind the ambulance from the border city of Shenzhen to Hong Kong, said he showed no signs of life when he was put in the ambulance.

Westbrook said mainland doctors had given up hope of saving him and moved him so there would not be another death of a foreigner from SARS.

Health officials in Shenzhen said Salisbury was in a coma, not dead.

"We wanted to keep him in Shenzhen, but at the request of his family, we moved him to Hong Kong, where he died," Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Guangdong's capital, told reporters in Beijing.

Salisbury's 6-year-old son, Mickey, is hospitalized in Hong Kong where he is under observation for SARS, a family member said. He is being looked after by church friends of the family.

The boy's mother is making plans to travel here to bring him home when he is well enough, according to Michelle Salisbury.

The flu-like illness continues to spread in Hong Kong and the mainland. Officials on Thursday took still more steps to try to control it, imposing strict 10-day quarantines for about 150 households of people recently infected.

The territory had previously quarantined some 240 people from a hard-hit apartment building, but some of them were released late Wednesday.

Worldwide, the disease, believed to be caused by a virus that causes the common cold, has claimed 111 lives. More than 2,700 people are infected with it. The United States reports 154 suspected cases, but no deaths.

Other Asian governments invoked new precautions Thursday to contain the virus, whose symptoms include fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Malaysia started denying visas to most Hong Kong people. Taiwan said medical staff would check the temperatures of all passengers arriving at Taipei's international airport and quarantine those with fever. Symptoms of SARS include fever, shortness of breath, coughing, chills and body aches.

Singapore announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for guest workers arriving from affected countries, while keeping a closer eye on people under quarantine with cameras and wrist tags.

Southeast Asian finance ministers postponed a meeting in Manila planned for later this month because of SARS fears.

Thailand eased up a bit on Thursday, saying tourists arriving from countries affected by SARS are no longer required to wear masks, as a World Health Organization official praised the country's efforts to prevent the illness.

Mainland China and Hong Kong have reported the highest numbers of infections and deaths from the disease. Deaths also have been reported in Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

A brief statement from China's Health Ministry on Thursday raised the SARS death toll by two.