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Beijing Officials Express Hope SARS Almost Beaten in Chinese Capital - 2003-05-24

Officials in Beijing have expressed hope that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is almost beaten. But Chinese authorities are not letting down their guard against a disease that has already killed 160 people in the capital city.

Officials announced Saturday that SARS has almost been contained in the city. The incidence is down from more than 100 new cases a day in April to an average of 13.2 cases a day last week.

In a news conference broadcast live across Beijing, however, Cai Fuchao, director of publicity for the Beijing Municipal government, was careful to stress that the fight against the disease is not over.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Cai warned city residents to remain vigilant until Beijing reaches its goal of zero new cases. "We have witnessed a positive trend of SARS situation development in Beijing. However, we must not relax our measures or be negligent in mind," he said.

Mr. Cai also expressed relief that life in Beijing was returning to normal, with people resuming daily activities that were halted because of the outbreak. "The Beijing which used to be a relatively tranquil city in the previous stage is becoming more and more bustling, as we are seeing more cars on the streets, more pedestrians, more people are going for shopping in the department stores and more people are dining in restaurants," he said.

As fear of SARS gradually declines, fewer people are wearing face masks and many businesses have reopened their doors. But local residents express different opinions about whether the disease still poses a threat to the city.

A university student said SARS was a new illness, and was scary at first, but she now thinks the danger is being exaggerated. An older woman, however, worries that the disease might come back. She said she read in a newspaper that there is a strong possibility of a SARS recurrence when the weather turns cold.

While confidence is increasing, the authorities here remain cautious. New cases rose again on Saturday, to 26. Entertainment venues such as theaters and Internet bars, which were shut during the height of the outbreak, will remain closed for the foreseeable future.