TOPICS > Health

China Accused of Concealing Extent of SARS Spread

BY Admin  April 9, 2003 at 5:38 PM EDT

Dr. Jiang Yanyong, retired chief of surgery for a Beijing military hospital, said doctors and nurses at two other hospitals told him at least seven deaths have occurred in their facilities and that there were 106 cases of the disease in Beijing — more than five times the number of cases authorities have announced. The Chinese Health Ministry reports four deaths and 19 cases in Beijing.

Doctors and administrators reached by telephone at the hospitals Jiang cited refused to comment to the Associated Press.

The accusations of a government cover-up came as news surfaced that one of Beijing’s hospitals had shut down because of SARS.

At the People’s Armed Police General Hospital in Beijing, a receptionist who answered the telephone said the facility had closed five days ago after staff members fell ill. She wouldn’t give her name.

World Health Organization researchers in China are continuing their investigations into the disease that has now claimed more than 100 lives and infected some 2,700 people. The WHO representative in the country, Henk Bekedam, said it was “very difficult” to know whether the Chinese government was providing the WHO team with all available information.

He said team members met Wednesday with Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and State Councilor Wu Yi and shared “the concern that there are many rumors and no clear answers.”

“They definitely said they will be following up … we now have very high-level commitment and with this high level of commitment, very soon we’ll get some real answers,” Bekedam said.

China, after waiting until April 2 to give the WHO team permission to visit Guangdong province where the virus first surfaced, had yet to approve requests by the group to visit Beijing hospitals.

“What we have been saying, also, very clearly to the government is that we are concerned,” WHO China representative Henk Bekedam told reporters.

“We are concerned at the moment about the other provinces. Are they ready? Are they ready for a big outbreak?” Bekedam continued.

Responding to the increasing threat of SARS, Malaysia banned all tourists from mainland China Wednesday and imposed restrictions on visitors from other places badly hit by the illness.

The Philippines issued an advisory against unnecessary travel to Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, citing the SARS outbreak.

The WHO last week issued a travel ban to Hong Kong and southern China, the first such decree in its history.

Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread beyond East Asia. India said Wednesday it had a second suspected SARS case, while South African health authorities reported Africa’s first probable infection.