Southern China's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has claimed over 50 lives, and now along with it, the Rolling Stones first two scheduled appearances in China.

Southern China's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has claimed over 50 lives, and now along with it, the Rolling Stones first two scheduled appearances in China, the band's official Web site and local sources said today (March 28). Yesterday, the Stones backed out of concerts tonight and tomorrow in Hong Kong over similar SARS-related concerns.

"The Rolling Stones announced today that their concert performances in Shanghai on April 1 and Beijing on April 4 have been cancelled due to World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control travel warnings regarding SARS, and continued concerns expressed by local Chinese government officials, communities, and individuals over large public gatherings," the Stones' Web site said.

Added frontman Mick Jagger, "We are very sad and disappointed not to be able to do these concerts. We have been looking forward to the shows in China for so long and will reschedule them as soon as possible." The group's Licks world tour will continue April 4 in Bangalore, India, at a show that was originally scheduled for April 11.

Sources close to the Beijing concert expressed some relief that the shows were being rescheduled. "We know ticket sales would have been pitiful [in Beijing]," said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "At least now, there will be more time for promotion. And the damages will not likely be paid by the promoter."

The cancellation is also a setback for China's top rock musician, Cui Jian, who has been banned from performing large-scale concerts in the country's capital for a decade, and was set to open the Beijing show.

The Stones' aforementioned Hong Kong concerts were timed to coincide with the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament, an event that brings thousands of visitors, especially expatriates, to the former British colony.

Crooner Andy Williams and guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana have also cancelled upcoming Hong Kong appearances. Scheduled shows by Moby on April 3 and David Gray on April 28 are now considered in jeopardy thanks to the epidemic that has led to the closing of some schools in Hong Kong for the upcoming week.