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WHO wants quicker action on bird flu

Warning the chance to contain bird flu might be disappearing, the World Health Organization urged China to take swifter action Saturday as the world's most populous country reported two new suspected outbreaks.

Asian governments, meanwhile, sought to reassure the public the virus was under control and poultry was safe to consume if properly cooked.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization appealed for international aid to provide farmers with compensation, saying otherwise they might resist slaughtering their flocks, a crucial measure in stamping out the disease and preventing a human outbreak.

"We are . . . concerned that mass culling is not taking place at a speed we consider absolutely necessary to contain the virus," said Hans Wagner, an animal production and health officer at FAO.

The WHO called on China to share more information about the disease, step up monitoring for possible human cases and take precautions so that workers engaged in the mass slaughter of birds aren't accidentally infected.

The appeal came after the government on Friday announced confirmed cases in two central provinces, Hunan and Hubei. It said it was investigating suspected cases in three other regions, including Guangdong in the south, where SARS is believed to have begun.

CHINA REPORTS FOURTH SARS CASE: Also Saturday, China announced its fourth confirmed SARS case of the season, saying the patient had left the hospital after "total recovery" _ a disclosure that prompted a strongly worded statement from the World Health Organization urging an investigation.

The 40-year-old doctor fell ill on Jan. 7 with a high fever, sore throat and fatigue, the official Xinhua News Agency said. He checked himself into a hospital Jan. 13, Xinhua said. Within five days, "his body temperature dropped to normal and his condition stabilized."

"WHO was not informed about this case until Jan. 30," the agency said. "Early detection, swift isolation and prompt reporting of cases are vital in the control of any infectious disease."

200 missing after barge sinks in Congo river

KINSHASA, Congo _ Nearly 200 people were missing after a barge caught fire and sank in a river in northwestern Congo, the United Nations said Saturday.

At least 301 of the nearly 500 people aboard the barge survived Monday's accident on the Congo River near the town of Lukelela, said Alexandre Essome of the U.N. Mission in Congo in the northwestern city of Mbandaka. One person was confirmed dead and at least one suffered severe burns, he said.

"We don't know what happened to the 200 who are missing," Essome said "According to survivors, they could have returned to (the capital) Kinshasa or Mbandaka . . . but it's also possible that the death toll will rise."

Nursing home fire kills 10, injures 7 in Scotland

UDDINGSTON, Scotland _ Fire broke out at a southern Scottish nursing home early Saturday, killing 10 residents and injuring seven, the fire service said.

It was one of the deadliest disasters at a British nursing home since the government began regulating the industry in the 1960s. Officials were investigating the cause.