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Cold weather in Taiwan linked to 150 deaths in five days

A cold spell is being blamed for the deaths of more than 150 people - most of them elderly and sick - in the past five days in Taiwan, said officials.

Temperatures fell as low as 6.7 degrees Celsius (44 degrees Fahrenheit) along the coast north of the capital, Taipei.

Taiwan's Liberty Times newspaper and United Daily News said the deaths of 154 people since Thursday were likely related to the cold.

Reports say below-normal temperatures around much of the island from Thursday night to Sunday may have triggered deadly heart attacks and strokes as well as the deaths of elderly people with the flu.

Temperatures in Taipei average 16 C (60 F) in January and February, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau. Because of the relatively mild norms, most households in Taiwan lack central heating, another suspected factor in the recent deaths.

Emergency calls in Taipei rose as temperatures fell to their lowest point, said Wang Yao-chen, emergency relief chief with the city of Taipei. The city's caseload went up more than 40 on Friday and 10 people died, Wang said.

"As for whether there's a connection with the cold, it's quite possible that it made people with heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes feel more discomfort," Wang said.

Although hospitals and emergency personnel are still evaluating exact causes of the deaths, elderly people without indoor heat were particularly in danger, according to the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control.

"We do predict some increase in the number of cases from severe complications," said the centre's deputy director, Luo Yi-chun.

"We'd like to advise older people to stay warm, especially at night, when the change in temperature is so large."

AP

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