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CDC Director Calls China's Anti-SARS Measures 'Extreme'

A top U.S. health official has reacted against stern new Chinese measures to punish people who deliberately spread the SARS virus. The United States has also dropped its warning against travel to Vietnam, where SARS transmission has stopped.

The U.S. government's disease tracking agency, the Centers for Disease Control, says a draconian Chinese policy to prevent SARS spread is dismaying. According to a news report by China's Xinhua news agency, the nation's top legal body, the Supreme Court, says patients who flee quarantine or deliberately spread SARS face execution or life imprisonment.

But CDC director Julie Gerberding calls these measures extreme. "Of course we are dismayed to learn about extreme measures for control, including the drastic measures that were cited in that report," she said. "But we can not confirm that the Chinese government is actually making any such decisions."

Dr. Gerberding says CDC experts are working closely with a World Health Organization team in China to do everything possible to contain SARS.

China at first had covered up the extent of the disease, even stalling the WHO group from visiting Guangdong Province, where the disease apparently originated. But Dr. Gerberding says she is encouraged to see SARS reporting from several Chinese provinces, calling it a good indication of public health activity in the country.

China remains on the list of countries to which the United States advises against non-essential travel. Taiwan and Hong Kong are also on the list.

But the United States has suspended its travel alert against Vietnam. Dr. Gerberding says SARS transmission has stopped there. "What this really means is that there is no ongoing transmission in Vietnam and more than 30 days have gone by since the onset of the last case where there was community spread," said Julie Gerberding.

The last SARS case in Vietnam was reported on April 7.

Dr. Gerberding says the United States is likely to drop its travel warnings soon against Singapore and Toronto, Canada. The two areas remain on the lower of two U.S. travel warning levels, as Vietnam had been for the past week. This status does not advise against travel, but informs travelers that a health concern exists.