Government officials in Athens yesterday expressed concern at the implications of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in the runup to the 2004 Olympics. «[SARS] is a major issue mainly now and concerning national delegations, rather than during the Olympic Games, because we hope that by then the problem will have been solved,» Telemachos Hytiris, Premier Costas Simitis’s press spokesman, said after a meeting of the interministerial committee supervising preparations for the Games. «Certain measures must be taken now regarding delegations visiting Europe from countries that, according to the World Health Organization, present a high risk level.» Hytiris said such measures would be decided during Friday’s meeting of International Olympics Committee officials in Madrid. «Obviously, we will implement them,» he added. Hytiris said he expected the IOC to take «precautionary» measures. «Therefore, groups and delegations from [SARS-affected countries] will not be allowed to move around in an uncontrolled manner.» By yesterday, SARS had killed at least 559 people worldwide, mostly in China (including Hong Kong), and Singapore, Canada and Taiwan. On Friday, Greek hoteliers said they would comply with Health Ministry recommendations not to accept visitors from SARS-afflicted countries. Local government, health and shipping officials are to meet today in Piraeus to discuss measures against the epidemic, while the government says many of Greece’s state hospitals are now in a position to handle an outbreak. In Cyprus yesterday, Health Minister Dina Akkelidou said registrations of language students from China and other SARS-struck countries at summer courses on the island will be suspended.