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WHO: Some SARS data unavailable in Beijing

From Lisa Rose Weaver

A Chinese health worker, right, distributes a leaflet on SARS to a Beijing shop owner.
A Chinese health worker, right, distributes a leaflet on SARS to a Beijing shop owner.

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Health investigators do not have some vital data about SARS cases in Beijing, China, according to a World Health Organization official.

WHO spokeswoman Mangai Balasegaram said that information about the previous contacts of people infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome in Beijing was not recorded.

That information would make it easier to track where patients may have contracted the virus and where outbreaks may occur next, Balasegaram said.

"We're not saying it's a problem with the data itself although it could be," Balasegaram said from WHO's Beijing office. "We just don't know why this is happening."

She said there was no indication that Chinese officials were hiding information, adding that the lapse may have occurred because Chinese medical workers are not trained to ask those type of questions.

China's Ministry of Health on Saturday reported five new SARS-related deaths and 85 new cases in China, down from 118 reported Friday.

More than half of the new cases, 54, were reported in Beijing.

Meanwhile Chinese state-controlled media reported some 8,000 people remain quarantined in the capital to prevent the spread of SARS.

China's cumulative number of SARS cases has reached 4,890, while 235 Chinese are on record as having died of the disease.

As of Friday, WHO reported more than 7,100 probable SARS cases and 514 deaths globally.

Beijing officials maintained Friday that the upward swing of SARS in the capital had been stopped and that reduced numbers might be around the corner. They said fewer people are checking into hospitals with SARS than were a couple of weeks ago.

WHO warned that it was too early to say China was nearing its peak of the disease.

Despite official optimism, Beijing is increasing resources to deal with SARS, including designating 16 more hospitals for treatment of the illness in the capital. Officials warned the city remains in a critical situation.

A WHO delegation is in China's Hebei Province, which borders Beijing, for the second day. There was no immediate statement from WHO offices in Beijing as to the delegation's findings.

A large number of migrant workers travel back and forth between their homes in Hebei and the capital, and WHO officials have said they fear the workers may have made the province vulnerable to SARS.

Officials inspecting the province, including its capital, Baoding, plan to review the system of patient surveillance and case reporting as well as evaluate how hospital management and infection control procedures.

Hebei officials said they expect the number of cases in the province to peak sometime between the middle and end of May, according to state-run media.

China's Ministry of Health has reported 157 SARS cases in Hebei.

Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi Province and the city of Tianjin -- all in northern China -- have been showing a rise in SARS cases within the past week.

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