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SARS Not Under Control, Says Chinese Medical Expert


A prominent expert from southern China says the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in his country is not under control, despite government claims to the contrary. Hong Kong is taking measures to stop its citizens from spreading SARS to the rest of the world.

Dr. Zhong Nan Shan, one of the most highly regarded medical experts in China, suggested China may face a continued rise in cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

He told reporters that experts are not yet certain of the origin of SARS, and that it is not clear the disease's spread is under control.

Previously, officials and experts from China's Guangdong province referred to the SARS outbreak as "a problem that is under control."

The World Health Organization cited figures in southern China indicating the SARS outbreak had peaked in February, and far fewer new cases were reported in March. But less than a week after China agreed to daily reporting of new SARS cases, the reliability of its figures has once again been thrown into question.

A senior Beijing doctor said the capital's hospitals were underreporting SARS cases and deaths. A WHO team on Friday was investigating the allegations.

Worldwide, more than 2,700 people have been afflicted with SARS and more than 111 have died. China accounts for more than half those figures.

Hong Kong, with just a fraction of China's population, reported 1,059 cases as of Friday, and an alarming increase of 61 people in just one day. In all, 32 have died in the city from SARS.

The government Friday announced a sweeping new measure aimed at restoring international confidence in Hong Kong's handling of the outbreak.

Tung Chee-Hwa is Hong Kong's chief executive. "We're obviously very concerned to see some countries taking unfavorable action against Hong Kong because of their worries about our situation here," he said. "Therefore, I've decided to bar people having close contact with SARS patients from leaving Hong Kong during the quarantine period."

The new travel ban begins April 14. Those affected will be quarantined for at least 10 days. New quarantines were also imposed on hundreds of people living in households where SARS victims have visited or lived.

Elsewhere, independent U.S. laboratories said they found evidence that a virus similar to the one that causes the common cold might be behind SARS. WHO reported Friday that Chinese teams have made similar findings.

The virus is new to science. The head of Hong Kong University's microbiology department told VOA that some of the pathogen's genes resemble those of viruses found in cows and mice. SARS causes serious and sometimes fatal pneumonia.