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China Apologizes for Slow Response to SARS Outbreak


A medical official in China has apologized for China's slow response to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome known as SARS. The World Health Organization says there are now 2,353 SARS cases and 84 deaths in 16 countries and China will now begin updating its figures on a daily basis.

Li Liming, director of China's Center for Disease Control, said the Chinese government did not act quickly enough to deal with the health crisis created by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

"We apologize to everyone," Mr. Li told a news conference on Friday. "Our medical departments and mass media suffered from poor coordination."

Epidemiological research by international scientists has linked the global outbreak of SARS to China's Guangdong province, but China has been slow to acknowledge this connection. After weeks of criticism from health experts around the world, however, doctors in China are beginning to change their tone.

Professor Guo Huiyu of Zhongshan Medical University in Guangzhou, says that atypical pneumonia outbreaks around world could all be due to the same pathogen thought to have originated in southern China.

The WHO on Saturday said that China would begin filing daily updates on the number of SARS cases and deaths, another move by the Chinese toward more transparency.

New figures submitted by China this week, increase the cumulative number of SARS cases in the country from 11090 to 12020. The number of SARS-related deaths in China was also increased, from 46 to 49.

The apology and the apparent decision by Chinese medical experts to cooperate with the WHO, marks a significant change in China's approach to the outbreak. Experts from the WHO were finally permitted to visit Guangdong this week after long delays. The experts are tracking the agent that causes the disease and possible related factors that might by helping it to spread.

Malaysia on Saturday became the latest country to acknowledge a death from SARS. Hong Kong, which lies adjacent to Guangdong, has been one of the places hardest hit by the disease. The government has responded by quarantining over 1,000 people and suspending schools for more than three weeks.

Despite these measures, new SARS cases are reported here daily. Hong Kong now has 800 cases and 20 deaths from the disease. Patients with SARS develop a severe form of pneumonia. Roughly four percent of known cases have ended in death.

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