Chinese health officials say have not determined whether a man hospitalized in southern China has Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The announcement by China's Ministry of Health followed days of speculation over whether a 32-year-old television producer hospitalized in southern China had fallen ill with SARS.
The man was hospitalized with pneumonia on December 20 in Guangdong province, where the deadly SARS virus is believed to have first appeared more than a year ago.
Wang Zhiqiong, assistant director of the Guangdong health department, spoke to journalists. She said it remains uncertain whether SARS has reappeared in China. She said the government will have to look at the Guangdong case more carefully. Health officials said the man was in stable condition and had not had a fever for days. They also said that none of the 81 people quarantined after coming in contact with him had displayed symptoms consistent with the disease. But It is still possible that doctors will conclude that man did contract SARS.
News of a possible new outbreak raised concerns in Beijing, which was paralyzed during the initial appearance of the disease early this year.
A shopkeeper says she is afraid and is going to take precautions, such as wearing a face mask. She says that if SARS does return, she hopes the government will attach importance to it this time. She says she hopes officials have learned from the past.
Chinese leaders came under heavy international criticism earlier this year for concealing the outbreak when it first began. Experts blamed the government's cover-up for the virus's quick and devastating spread to many other countries.
More than 8,000 people worldwide contracted SARS in late 2002 and early 2003, and more than 800 died. Most of the victims were in China, where the last SARS patients were discharged from hospitals in August.
This time, China's government has vowed to act without delay to contain any new outbreak. Officials have also promised to release information about new cases quickly.
The world's latest confirmed case of SARS occurred in Taiwan. A 44-year-old scientist who doctors say was exposed to the virus at the laboratory where he works came down with the disease this month, but has recovered and was released from the hospital.