The Health Ministry yesterday urged Greek hoteliers to turn away groups of tourists from countries with a high incidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as part of a nationwide effort to prevent the spread to Greece of the mysterious disease that has killed at least 500 people worldwide. «Although we cannot force every hotel owner to implement this recommendation, everyone should assume responsibility toward their country,» Health Minister Costas Stefanis told a press conference on the results of this week’s emergency summit of European Union health ministers on SARS. Despite half-a-dozen scares, there have been no SARS outbreaks in Greece so far. Stefanis also praised the Chinese Embassy in Athens for having postponed its routine new staff postings from China in view of the outbreak. China is the worst-affected country, with a total death toll of at least 224 by yesterday. The minister also announced that all Greece’s main public hospitals will be fully prepared to treat SARS patients in specially built isolation wards by the end of next week. Thessaloniki’s Ippocrateio, Papageorgiou and Papanikolaou hospitals already have a sufficient number of such wards, Stefanis said, while in Athens the Sismanogleio is also in a state of readiness, the Evangelismos will be ready today, the General State Hospital and the Sotiria by the end of this week and Aghia Sophia next week. Health officials at Greece’s main airports and harbors are already on alert for SARS cases among visitors, while Athens Airport has a special quarantine area that can hold passengers and crew from an entire flight of at least 350 people in the event of a traveler being diagnosed with SARS.