BEIJING: Beijing hospitals are failing to record some possible SARS cases, leading to possible under-reporting of the size of the Chinese capital's outbreak, a World Health Organisation expert said yesterday. His comments came as China announced its lowest nationwide daily increase in infections in weeks.
The state media quoted Premier Wen Jiabao calling for stern enforcement of anti-SARS restrictions and said more than 300 local officials have been punished for negligence in disease fighting work. An official said foreign adoptions of Chinese children had been suspended amid warnings not to travel to the country.
The government-run China Centre of Adoption Affairs is still processing adoptions, but has stopped sending documents authorising new parents to come to China, he said.
The Health Ministry reported four new SARS deaths and 39 new cases – a fraction of the increase announced in early May when China was reporting more than 150 new cases a day. Shanghai, the country's biggest city, reported its second death – a 54-year-old man who wasn't hospitalised until he was gravely ill and had infected his wife.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed 275 people on the Chinese mainland and infected 5,191.
Beijing, the hardest hit area in the world, reported one new death and 28 new cases. That raised the city's total reported cases to more than 2,400.
However, WHO expert Dr Daniel Chin said city hospitals aren't recording some patients who have SARS symptoms but had no known contact with an infected person and recovered quickly.
“In the last couple of days, we have become concerned that there actually is under diagnosis of probable SARS cases in Beijing,'' Chin said. However, he said it didn't appear that hospitals were trying to hide cases.
Chin had no estimate of the possible number of unreported cases, but said it “may not be that small.''
Chinese leaders have promised to report honestly on SARS and have threatened to punish officials who try to conceal cases.
“No individual or administration will be allowed to tamper with or delay the reporting of information,'' the Xinhua News Agency quoted Wen, the premier, as saying at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.
He said anyone caught breaking disease control measures must be punished.
Xinhua said more than 300 Communist Party and government officials have been fired or given other punishments for dereliction of duty.
On Thursday, state media publicised a warning by China's Supreme Court that people who cause death or severe illness by knowingly spreading SARS could face prison terms or possible execution. The court said quarantine violators could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
Two school principals in the north-eastern city of Harbin were fired for holding entrance tests in defiance of orders to postpone them.
Also in Jiangsu, a woman was sentenced to one year in a labour camp for leading villagers who attacked an office building that was being converted into a SARS quarantine centre, Xinhua said. – AP
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