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China Defends Reporting of SARS Cases - 2003-04-17


China insists that it has reported all the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome cases in Beijing, even though international disease control experts doubt the official figures. Regardless of the numbers, officials worry that during a coming holiday, travelers will spread the SARS virus further across the country.

Chinese officials insist there are just 37 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Beijing, even though experts from the World Health Organization estimate the actual number may be five times higher.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao says the official numbers must be right because the Health Ministry has worked very hard on them.

Mr. Liu says new figures for Beijing should be released soon.

WHO officials have been investigating SARS in Beijing and say they found between 100 and 200 unreported cases in hospitals run by China's military in the city.

New national figures show China has more than 1450 SARS cases. Officials worry that a holiday week that begins May first could further spread the virus. Normally millions of Chinese spend the week traveling both in the country and overseas.

Mr. Liu says he can not deny that the customary heavy holiday travel could be harmful.

Doctors say the SARS virus appears to be spread by close contact, making people afraid to make long train, bus or plane trips.

But the deputy manager of the Beijing West Railway station, Guo Qifu says transportation officials are doing their best to make travel safe.

Mr. Guo says workers disinfect every bit of the station twice a week and disinfect key parts of the station every day.

As he spoke, workers wearing masks sprayed foul-smelling chemicals around the station and wiped every surface.

The SARS virus has badly hurt transportation, tourism, and other industries in China. Officials say the economy grew by 9.9 percent for the first three-months of this year. They say SARS is likely to hurt future growth, but it is too early to calculate the damage.

China was slow to acknowledge the SARS problem and hid much of the information about the outbreak. That has drawn strong criticism from other nations.

SARS first appeared late last year in southern China and it has since spread around the world, infecting more than 3200 people and killing at least 160.