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BEIJING - The number of SARS cases in China passed 5,000 Monday, and Taiwan saw a record jump in infections and a hospital boss there was fired for allegedly covering up an outbreak.

As grim statistics rolled in, the World Health Organization visited a poor and medically backward Chinese province that could be fertile ground for a potentially devastating epidemic. Four luxury hotels in Shanghai, including the historic Peace Hotel, closed temporarily for lack of guests.

Highlighting the disease's global nature, Canadian officials angrily rejected suggestions that a Finnish man contracted SARS in Toronto, insisting the outbreak there is under control.

In Malaysia, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pressed on with a Southeast Asian tour but with a drastically reduced entourage after strong last-minute pressure not to go because of SARS.

"I said, 'Go away' to all those people who said, 'You can't go.' My wife ended up understanding, and I hope other people will understand it also," he said.

Schroeder described the SARS threat as a "theoretical danger" compared with the certain "political damage" that would have resulted from canceling the four-nation tour at short notice.

Monday's fatalities in Taiwan, as well as 12 more in China and three in Hong Kong, brought the international death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome to at least 559. There were at least 7,400 known SARS cases.

China remains the hardest hit country with at least 252 dead.

Although some Chinese infection rates have been declining, Monday's 75 cases raised its tally to 5,013.

Thousands of people are have been quarantined amid fears that the disease is spreading from cities into the impoverished countryside, where medical facilities would not be able to cope with a sweeping outbreak.

WHO visited southern Guangxi province, fearing hundreds of thousands of returning migrant workers could bring in the epidemic.

"Guangxi is susceptible to infection because of its location," WHO spokeswoman Mangai Balasegaram said. "It's a poor region. It would be Š less able to cope."

Chinese President Hu Jintao praised his country's medical workers for battling SARS - a disease that has infected many doctors and nurses.

"In the fight against SARS, the broad masses of medical workers have made tremendous efforts. The party and government thank you," Hu was quoted as saying by state television.

Taipei's city government sacked the president of a public hospital that was sealed off April 24 to contain a SARS outbreak. He and at least one other doctor are accused of misdiagnosing SARS cases or not reporting infections.

Taiwan's tally stood at 27 fatalities and 207 cases of infection. It reported 23 new cases Monday - its worst one-day jump since its outbreak began two months ago.

One death, that of a dentist in southern Kaohsiung, proved that the disease was heading south across the island from the capital, Taipei. Officials said the man had a history of tuberculosis and might contracted SARS from a patient.

Meanwhile, officials are worried because they haven't been able to trace at least six patients to previous cases, said the vice chairman of Taiwan's SARS Control and Relief Committee, Dr. Lee Ming-liang.

This suggested SARS has spread to the public at large. In the past, transmission has usually been traced through family members or others who had close contact with known SARS cases.

In Finland, the University of Turku Central Hospital said a Finnish man who had been on vacation in SARS-hit Toronto in late April had probably contracted the illness.

It said the patient was recovering well, and that no one who had been in contact with him had shown any of the disease's symptoms: fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Officials in Canada, eager to avoid disruptions to its tourism, disputed any Toronto connection.

Dr. Colin D'Cunha, health commissioner in Ontario province, said the idea was preposterous, and that the only way the man could have been infected in Toronto was through SARS patients in a hospital.

"I'm sure the (Finnish patient) had some respiratory symptoms and, simply put, was diagnosed with SARS because the person had spent some time in Toronto."

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