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China hid SARS patients - report

SARS could have big impact on Beijing's May Day holidays.
SARS could have big impact on Beijing's May Day holidays.

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• Frequently Asked Questions: SARS 
• Country breakdown: Suspect and probable cases of SARS 
• Special report: SARS: Mystery illness on the move 
• China and SARS external link


Suspect case: A person who develops high fever (greater than 38 C / 100.4 F) and respiratory symptoms such as cough, breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, within 10 days of

1) having had close contact with a person who is a suspect or probable case of SARS.
2) having traveled to or resided in an affected area.

Probable case:  A suspect case with chest X-ray findings of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

BEIJING, China -- Beijing authorities have gone to staggering lengths to hide SARS patients from visiting World Health Organization (WHO) inspectors, according to TIME magazine.

At one of the most reputable of the city's hospitals, 31 patients suffering the potentially lethal disease were driven around in ambulances for the duration of the WHO visit, said TIME.

And at a military hospital, 40 SARS patients were said to have been moved to a hotel for the duration of the WHO tour, in an apparent attempt to deceive inspectors about the true extent of the outbreak.

The timing of the revelations could prove a major embarrassment to the Chinese government.

On Friday, China's President Hu Jintao called on authorities to provide full support for SARS research and to cooperate with international agencies. (Full story)

"[Thursday's ruling inner circle party] meeting explicitly warned against the covering up of SARS cases and demanded the accurate, timely and honest reporting of the SARS situation," Xinhua, China's official news service, reported.

The leader's comments followed WHO criticism that Beijing was not reporting SARS patients in military hospitals.

But the appeal would seem to be either disingenuous or to have simply been ignored, based on the TIME report that quoted unnamed doctors from the People's Liberation Army Hospital and China Japan Friendship Hospital. (Time report)

TIME, owned by CNN's parent company, also quoted a retired senior doctor as confirming that Beijing was continuing to deliberately hide SARS cases.

"I've seen an internal Ministry of Health report that puts the number of confirmed SARS cases in Beijing at between 200 and 300, based on accounts from individual hospitals," the doctor said.

Publicly, the Ministry of Health maintains there have only been 37 SARS cases in Beijing.

"Another internal document I've seen says that in the last 10 days there have been more than 100 new cases reported in Beijing," the medical source told TIME.

Government line

Hu had said SARS was not only a health and safety issue, but also affected national reform and development, the China Daily reported.

On stark contrast to Friday's revelations, the nine-member Politburo committee demanded that leaders throughout the country assist in the fight against SARS.

"They will be held accountable for the overall situation in their respective jurisdictions," the committee said.

The official national toll reports 1457 cases and 65 deaths nationally from the disease, excluding another death reported Friday in Beijing.

China's Ministry of Health told reporters last week their figures included SARS patients in military hospitals.

However, WHO officials estimated that if military patients were included, the total number of SARS cases in Beijing could range from 100 to 200 rather than the 37 reported.

China's military hospitals are not obliged by Chinese law to report cases to health authorities.

Temperature checks

Meanwhile, outgoing Hong Kong airport passengers wearing face masks were submitted to body temperature checks, part of a new proactive approach to SARS announced by the Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa on Wednesday.

Tung said those checks will be extended to incoming passengers next week.

Journalists observe the isolation ward at Beijing's Ditan Hospital.

Tung met reporters Friday as he rolled out a campaign for a massive cleanup of Hong Kong that officials hope will help, and he acknowledged earlier shortcomings.

"In the beginning, we were not as active or proactive as we are now," Tung said.

The Hong Kong Health Department has confirmed the SARS virus spread through the Amoy Gardens housing estate through the buildings' plumbing system. (Full story)

On Thursday, the WHO said 27 countries (including Hong Kong, Taiwan and China separately) had reported 3,573 cases of SARS and 166 deaths.

The disease first emerged in China's Guangdong Province last November, but health authorities there failed to notify their counterparts internationally until about four months later, according to Dr David Heymann, WHO director of communicable diseases.

Other developments:

• Beijing universities have canceled activities and some classes to prevent the spread of SARS.

• Southeast Asian leaders plan to meet in Bangkok, Thailand on April 29 to discuss ways to prevent SARS from ruining the region's travel and tourism industries.

• Australia, Mongolia and India report their first suspected cases of SARS. (India: Full story)

• The WHO says the virus which causes SARS comes from the same group that causes the common cold but it has never before been seen in humans. Confirming this knowledge is regarded as a key step in the hunt for a cure and possible vaccine against the disease. (Full story)

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