Chinese health officials say they will investigate allegations the government is covering up the true extent of the SARS outbreak in Beijing. Health officials also admitted that some cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome may have been contracted in Beijing, something previously denied.
Vice Minister of Health Ma Xiaowei says the number of SARS cases in Beijing has now risen to 22. Four people have died. But those figures are far lower than the number of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome patients reported by a Beijing doctor who says he knows in one hospital alone there were at least 60 cases and seven deaths.
The doctor, Jiang Yangyong from one of Beijing's military hospitals (Chinese People's Liberation Army General hospital), described the official figures as "nonsense" and contacted foreign reporters.
At a Thursday news conference, Vice Minister Ma defended the Health Ministry's work on dealing with the outbreak of the virus. But he also promised to investigate the alleged underreporting of the number of sick.
However many cases there are in Beijing, Mr. Ma says a few of them now appear to have been contracted within the city. Earlier, health officials said all of Beijing's SARS victims caught the sometimes-deadly flu-like illness somewhere else.
A new Health Ministry report says SARS has now infected 1,290 people across China, mostly in south China's Guangdong Province, where it is thought to have originated. Officials also raised the number of Chinese SARS deaths to 55.
SARS first surfaced last November and has since spread to more than a dozen nations, infecting more than 2,700 people and killing more than one hundred.