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SARS: China ups the ante


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BEIJING, China -- Chinese health officials are keeping more than 600 people under observation, as they try to contain a cluster of confirmed and suspected SARS cases in Beijing and the eastern province of Anhui.

Authorities have also stepped up surveillance against the disease ahead of the week-long May Day holidays which see millions of people take to the air, railways and roads.

But the risk of a SARS crisis hitting the capital Beijing again was "very small," the head of virus control under the Beijing centre for disease control, Wu Jiang, told reporters Tuesday.

The 600 quarantined people, including 24 staff of the national center of disease control, were under collective isolation or told to stay at home, the Beijing News said.

At the height of last year's SARS outbreak in Beijing more than 30,000 people were placed in isolation.

In the latest SARS scare, there has been one confirmed case and five suspected cases in Beijing.

In Anhui, there has been one confirmed case and one suspected case. The suspected case, a woman who died on April 19, is the mother of the confirmed case, a student.

Representatives from the World Health Organization have been working with Chinese health officials in the wake of the reappearance of SARS.

The WHO has raised questions about bio-safety practices at the laboratory where the latest outbreak appears to be sourced from.

Another question was why it took nearly a month to determine the student had SARS, by which time her mother had died and she had made five train trips between Beijing and her home in the eastern province of Anhui, Reuters reports.

Some WHO officials have raised serious concerns the virus might have already spread via the nation's railway system.

But Wu was quoted as saying the chances were low because the source of the virus was quite clear.

China has published details of trains and buses the student and her mother rode.

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, affected more than 8,000 people between November 2002 and July 2003 in what the WHO deemed a "global threat".

Nearly 800 died from it, with Hong Kong, China and Vietnam the hardest hit regions.

"WHO sees the current situation in China as one requiring heightened vigilance, but still not one of a significant threat to public health," said Dr Julie Hall, WHO's SARS team leader in China.

Last year China was criticized for the way it handled public information about SARS. This time around, it is making sure the public is informed and aware of both confirmed and suspected cases.

Some Chinese, however, are not as concerned this time around.

"For myself, personally, I don't care about SARS. I don't think it's necessary to wear a mask," one man told CNN.

-- CNN's Tara Duffy contributed to this report


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