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WHO Still Unable to Visit SARS Patients in Chinese Military Hospitals - 2003-04-15


World Health Organization officials say they are having problems getting into some Chinese hospitals to study SARS patients. There have been charges that the government has hidden the true number of patients afflicted with the virus, which causes a serious form of pneumonia.

World Health Organization officials in Beijing have asked to visit several military hospitals. They would not say when or if they will be able to visit the hospitals to complete their investigation of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

A report on the World Health Organization web site said Beijing authorities "have not yet granted WHO experts permission to visit military hospitals."

Last week, a retired military surgeon told foreign journalists these military hospitals have many patients suffering from SARS and dismissed the officially reported numbers as "nonsense." He said the official numbers were a fraction of the total cases in Beijing.

The web site said "WHO staff in Beijing have expressed particular concern" about the official response to allegations of a government coverup.

But China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the government is cooperating well with the WHO experts.

He said WHO officials have praised China's efforts, and such "fruitful cooperation" will continue.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the city has mobilized 2,500 medical staff to visit the homes of suspected SARS patients or those at risk of contracting the disease.

All across China, workers have been disinfecting airports, taxis, subways, and other public facilities in the hope of stopping the spread of SARS.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has told officials to screen travelers on airplanes, trains and buses for the severe flu-like symptoms of SARS and to quarantine those who appear infected.

The SARS virus appeared late last year in southern China. It has spread around the world, infecting more than 3,000 people and killing nearly 150.