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China Says SARS Cases Leveling Off in Beijing - 2003-05-02

Possible good news in the battle to contain the spread of SARS. Health officials in China say the recent surge of new SARS cases may be leveling off in Beijing. Nonetheless the Chinese capital remains the hardest hit by the rapidly spreading and deadly flu like virus. So far more than 181 people have died from SARS throughout China. Worldwide the epidemic has killed 405 people and infected more than 6,000 in some 20 countries. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins has more.

SARS continues to spread in Beijing where more than 16-hundred people have gotten sick from the virus. The death toll is rising too. The Chinese capital is now considered the so-called infection hot spot of the disease.

But As China continues to build more treatment facilities for patients’ health officials say the numbers of new SARS cases may be leveling off.

At a news conference Liang Wannian, deputy director of Beijing’s Municipal Health Bureau, said since April 21st the number of SARS cases is peaking in the capital. He also said the infection rate will likely drop in the next 10 days if the virus does not mutate.

“You must educate the people how to prevent infections, to let people realize that it is their own duty to prevent further infection. Let people and government and society and individuals act together to prevent infections.”

Beijing remains virtually shut down despite the traditional May Day holiday. The city is normally crowded with tourists but fear of SARS is keeping them away.

Schools, entertainment and other public venues are closed as well as many Beijing residents are staying home. Thousands of people suspected of having SARS are under quarantine and nearly 700-thousand university students have been barred from traveling to their home provinces.

Chinese government and health officials are denying rumors that Beijing is to be sealed off.

In Hong Kong, which has the second highest SARS death rate, health care workers are focusing on the elderly. They go to housing developments to check people for symptoms of the virus. Statistics indicated that nearly 60 percent of SARS deaths occurred in patients over 65 years old.

Meanwhile, in the United States, two medical researchers at Louisiana State University say they have developed a model of a protein that causes SARS. They say their work could pave the way for new anti-viral drugs that could treat the disease.