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Leading US Senator Assesses China's SARS Situation - 2003-04-30

A top U.S. lawmaker is praising China for publicly acknowledging the magnitude of the SARS outbreak there after initially being slow to do so. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says Beijing could do even more.

Senator Frist, the Senate's only medical doctor, visited China last week, concerned that Chinese authorities were not being forthcoming about the extent of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

China had been widely accused of covering up the magnitude of the flu-like illness in the months after it first appeared there in November, and then spread internationally by air travelers.

Senator Frist said he offered a stern warning when he met with Chinese officials in Beijing.

"I was very direct in speaking as a physician, as somebody interested in infectious disease, but also as a political figure here in the United States, that this could not be tolerated," he said.

Speaking at a Senate hearing on SARS, Senator Frist said he received a positive response from China's president, who acknowledged the extent of the problem.

"President Hu Jintao said this is a disaster of not only China, but of potentially the entire world, and that is something they had not said before," he pointed out.

The Tennessee Republican said health officials in China are now making a good effort to provide accurate reports about the SARS epidemic, but he said U.S. health officials need more information.

"We are not getting the date of contacts, we are not getting the dates of onset of illness," he said.

Senator Frist said Chinese health officials responded that they do not have the infrastructure to compile such information. They said there is nobody to collect the data and nobody to whom they can report it.