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Beijing Extends SARS Quarantine, Denies Isolating City - 2003-04-25

Chinese officials trying to stem the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome say they are not isolating the capital, Beijing. But city officials have extended a quarantine on people exposed to SARS, including cordoning off a second hospital. Residents say few cars are being allowed out of Beijing, although the government says the city is not being cut off from the world.

Cai Fuchao, a spokesman for the Communist Party in Beijing, denied rumors that the city's roads and airports are being closed.

He said there is no martial law in the city, and that highways and the airport remain open. He says false rumors are being spread by people with "ulterior motives."

Over the past few days, as the SARS outbreak has spread, Beijing has been flooded by rumors it was about to be cut off from the world. Residents have crammed into shops trying to stock up on food and medicines.

To calm fears, Mr. Cai and China's vice minister of health, Guo Jiyong, told journalists Friday that Beijing will continue to have adequate supplies of food and medicine. They promise to punish speculators who have pushed up prices on some goods by 30 percent or more. Mr. Cai said fighting the disease to ensure the safety and health of the people has become the government's number one priority.

Beijing on Friday sealed off Ditan Hospital, apparently because SARS is spreading among patients and staff. Hundreds of workers and patients are confined to the facility, which is the second hospital to be quarantined this week.

The city has quarantined several apartment buildings, offices, factories and hotels, where suspected SARS cases have been found. The order affects as many as 4,000 people.

National officials are afraid the disease will spread from Beijing to rural areas, which have inadequate health care facilities.

In Shanghai, World Health Organization experts are assessing the number of cases reported in China's largest city. So far, Shanghai officials have said the city has only a few cases. On Friday, journalists reported that cars coming into Shanghai were being stopped by police, who were apparently checking if passengers have SARS symptoms.

China reports more than 2,600 SARS cases, and at least 115 deaths. There are nearly 900 cases in Beijing alone. Worldwide, the disease has struck more than 4,000 people, causing at least 250 deaths.