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China Begins to Acknowledge Scope of SARS Infection
27 Mar 2003, 21:02 UTC
Months after a severe form of pnuemonia first appeared in southern
China, officials in Beijing are just now beginning to admit
how far the disease has spread. News media in the country have
been quiet about the outbreak.
Health experts say Chinese officials tried to hide the spread
of the disease for months, because health statistics are often
considered politically sensitive and not publicly released.
In recent weeks, world health officials have increasingly pressed
China to improve cooperation and statistical reporting on what
is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS. Beijing
began providing data on SARS to the World Health Organization
about two weeks ago. On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman
Kong Quan said China is firmly controlling the spread of SARS.
Mr. Kong says that although the number of reported cases has
increased, there have been no new cases found since March 11.
The mysterious disease first appeared in southern China late
last year. Chinese news media, however, have downplayed reports
on the disease. Some local Beijing newspapers are carrying brief
reports on back pages. But state-run television has not mentioned
the disease. On Wednesday, officials admitted there had been
a total of 792 SARS cases in China and 34 deaths, as of the
end of February. Medical personnel say the number of new cases
dropped dramatically this month.
There have been almost 1,400 SARS cases worldwide, including
more than 50 deaths. Victims of the disease suffer flu-like
symptoms that often progress to severe pneumonia. In China,
most cases were found in the south, although a handful have
been found in Beijing and in Shanxi, an inland province.
Citing a report from the Beijing health bureau, Mr. Kong says
victims of the eight cases in the capital were either from Hong
Kong or from Shanxi. The ministry of health has not released
more recent data and World Health Organization officials in
Beijing say they have not been given statistics concerning the
disease in other provinces, despite repeated requests.
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