WASHINGTON, May 19 (UPI) -- The number of new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome continued to increase in Taiwan Monday as the country reported 70 more people have contracted the respiratory illness and five more have died.
The increase makes "Taiwan the most rapidly growing outbreak at present," the World Health Organization said in a written statement. To date, 344 SARS cases and 40 deaths have been reported there.
As Taiwanese officials struggled to control the disease, Russia's Transaero Airlines announced Monday that flights between Moscow and Taipei will be postponed indefinitely because of SARS and a lack of demand among the business community and travel agencies.
Transaero had planned to launch services on the route May 25 and had promoted the new Moscow-Taipei service, the first between Russia and the island, for several months.
SARS cases are now being reported in six hospitals in Taiwan and deficiencies in emergency rooms may be partly to blame.
"Lapses in infection control, particularly in emergency rooms, may have been one reason for the rapid increase in cases," the WHO said.
It is unclear how bad the current situation is because some of cases being reported could be older ones that are just now coming to light.
"It is possible that the large number of cases being reported daily represents a backlog of cases that are only now being recognized as SARS," WHO officials said.
Taiwan's health minister, Twu Shiing-Je, resigned last week and accepted blame for the outbreak.
The WHO said it "is confident that Taiwan will bring the outbreak under control," but it added it will send additional support staff to assist officials there soon.
WHO officials already in Taiwan are working to assist authorities there with implementing measures to contain the disease. Included in these measures are "guidance on the safe screening of persons presenting with fever, and advice on policies for home quarantine and prevention of spread within schools" that have proven successful in controlling SARS in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Taiwanese authorities also have improved their infection control measures such as reorganizing emergency rooms and hospital beds to minimize transmission of the disease. In addition, delays in reporting SARS cases "are punishable by law, and in the severest cases, subject to imprisonment," the WHO said.
Also on Monday, there were indications from China the disease was coming under control there as the number of new cases of SARS and deaths from the respiratory illness continued to decline.
After weeks of reporting more than 100 new cases daily, China has reported progressively fewer cases over the past several days and Monday reported 12 new cases and five more deaths.
To date, 5,236 people in China have contracted SARS and 289 have died.
Worldwide, 7,864 SARS cases and 643 deaths have been reported in 28 countries.
(With additional reporting by Anthony Louis, UPI Science News, in Moscow)