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China Admits Poor Management of SARS Breakout

China revealed today that the number of people in Beijing who are infected with the deadly disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is ten times higher than previously reported. The disclosure has led to a political shakeup over continuing charges that high-ranking Chinese officials mishandled the outbreak of the disease. Chris Simkins has more.

Communist Party leaders Monday removed Beijing’s Mayor Meng Xuenong after an increase in the number of SARS cases was disclosed.

The dismissal comes a day after China’s health minister was also suddenly removed from his job. He was widely accused of lying about the extent of the disease across China.

The political shakeup was accompanied by an unprecedented Chinese Government admission that it had mismanaged the outbreak of the disease. The move was unusual for China’s Communist Party, which rarely acknowledges its mistakes publicly.

In the Chinese capital state-run newspapers reported that the number of SARS case had jumped from 37 to 339. Reports said that senior communist party leaders accused the mayor of failing to gather information on SARS and track people who might be exposed to the illness.

Seventy-nine people have died in China and more than 1800 people have been sickened with the infection. In an effort to further prevent the spread of the disease, China canceled its traditional weeklong May Day vacation, a big travel time for tens of millions of Chinese.

This man, just released from a Beijing hospital, talked about the symptoms that nearly killed him.

“Initially I could stand up, if I stood up my heart rate increased to 140 (beats per minute) because I was so weak I lost 10 kilos since I was discharged from the I-C-U (Intensive Care Unit).”

The first known case of SARS occurred in China’s southern Guangdong province last November. Since then the flu-like illness has killed at least 211 people and has infected 3800 people worldwide.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported six more SARS deaths Monday, bringing the territory’s death toll to 94.

But the territory’s leader, Tung Chee-Hwa, said efforts to contain the disease are paying off. He said Hong Kong’s program to quarantine households of SARS victims has resulted in the stabilization in the number of new cases.