Death toll rises unabated


BEIJING: SARS showed no signs of slowing in China yesterday with another nine deaths as the government shut schools, rounded up those with symptoms and ordered every town in the vast country to reveal all its cases. 

A further 147 cases were recorded, mostly here, as authorities desperately tried to claw back ground lost by initially covering up the extent of an epidemic that now threatens to spiral out of control. 

Seven of the new deaths and 105 of the new cases were recorded here, reeling from the sudden onset of the killer disease since the government decided to own up and publish more thorough figures. 

The Chinese capital now has 35 dead and 1,475 confirmed or suspected cases. Nationwide the death toll stands at 106 with 2,305 infected. 

As part of efforts to tackle the virus, Premier Wen Jiabao established a Cabinet-level SARS prevention command centre as the finance ministry set aside 2bil yuan (RM912mil) in a special fund to fight the epidemic. 

The multi-ministerial central command post would be headed by Vice Premier Wu Yi, China Central Television said. 

“The State Council Headquarters for the Prevention of Atypical Pneumonia will unify leadership and co-ordinate the nationwide prevention work against atypical pneumonia,” the report said. 

Meanwhile a massive campaign has reportedly begun to identify and isolate anyone who shows symptoms here, where fear is gripping the city. 

Supermarkets are seeing panic-buying amid rumours that the city will be isolated, while a sea of white masks has materialised virtually overnight. 

Hundreds of travellers lugging suitcases clogged the square in front of Beijing Railway Station in hopes of getting on one of the dozens of trains going to the north, south and west – anywhere out of the crowded city. 

“I'm going home because I'm scared of getting sick,” said migrant worker Deng Pao. ”I've been here for two months and had a good job, but it's not worth it.” 

“Unceasingly, the investigations into the epidemic must identify all with symptoms, and not let one case escape,” said Liu Qi, the capital's Communist Party head, according to the Beijing Morning News

The paper said hundreds of investigators had been sent to round up those with SARS who must be treated in six designated hospitals, although evidence emerged of patients being shipped to another hospital, raising suspicions that the virus could be more widespread than acknowledged. 

 

Yesterday alone, authorities said 105 of the 147 new cases nationwide and seven of the nine fatalities were recorded here.Li said a system of “discovery, quarantine and treatment” had been set up in Haidian district, which has a population of 1.74 million and where 200 mobile investigators had been put to work. 

 

Education authorities here ordered the suspension of classes at primary and middle schools for a month, affecting 1.7 million children. 

Schools are scheduled to be shut for the May Day holidays for two weeks from tomorrow but authorities decided to extend the period for an extra two weeks at least. 

 

All sporting events were also ordered postponed nationwide “in principle” by the State Sports Commission, including the premier league soccer matches and the nation's diving championships. 

A health ministry statement said any public place like a supermarket or restaurant where a SARS case was found would be shut down immediately. – Agencies  

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