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U.S.: Capitol, Other Offices To Close For Anthrax Tests

Washington, D.C., 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives says the Capitol and nearby congressional office buildings will be closed later today so health officials can test for anthrax. Speaker Dennis Hastert (Republican-Illinois) said 29 people who work in the U.S. Senate have tested positive for exposure to anthrax after a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Democrat-South Dakota), containing a virulent form of the disease, was opened two days ago.

"We think we owe it to the people who work here, we think we owe it to our staffs who come from all across this country to serve the people of this nation, and quite frankly we owe it to the members [citizens] of this country, the people who elect us, to make sure that this Congress can sustain and be here and continue its work."

Hastert said the congressional buildings will be closed at least through Monday (22 October), or until all tests are completed. The speaker said anthrax contamination was present in congressional mailrooms, tunnels linking the buildings, and in ventilation systems.

Meanwhile, bioterrorism scares and hoaxes continued to spread worldwide today, prompted by the cases of anthrax in the United States.

Four U.S. cases of infection have been confirmed and some 12 cases of exposure to the bacterium had been registered prior to the cases in Washington confirmed today. One person has died from inhalation anthrax in the state of Florida.

Russia says it will maintain a ban introduced yesterday on animal products from Florida until the full extent of anthrax exposure there is known. Russia has offered to make its expertise and vaccine stockpiles available to the United States.

Britain declared an alert today for an anthrax terror attack, although a series of anthrax scares yesterday proved to be unfounded.

Polish police detained a man who delivered a letter to a neighbor containing a harmless white powder that touched off an anthrax scare. The Czech Interior Ministry says a hospital in the city of Liberec tested a woman for anthrax after she reported opening a letter from the United States. The tests proved negative. Czech authorities also tested and found harmless a letter mailed from Japan to Prime Minister Milos Zeman.

Slovakia's postal service, warning of postal delays, says it is examining all mail from abroad.

Reports of scares and special precautions are coming also from Cape Town, Singapore, and Berlin.