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Containment of SARS Working, say Chinese Officials - 2003-05-20

As new infections of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome continue to decline in China, officials say their containment measures are working. But the World Health Organization still has reservations about Beijing's reporting methods. Meanwhile, Taiwan continues to grapple with the world's fastest growing SARS outbreak.

Chinese officials on Tuesday announced there had been no new transmission of SARS among full-time Beijing students for at least 11 days, and schools will resume classes gradually.

That is a significant target population given that state-run media say that of the city's more than 2,400 SARS cases, 16 percent are comprised of students and faculty.

Cai Fuchao, a spokesman for the Beijing government, was optimistic that the capital's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome would fade soon.

He said the number of new cases in Beijing will likely fluctuate between single and double digits in coming weeks.

Reports of new infections continue to make remarkable drops in China. Seventeen new infections were confirmed Tuesday bringing the nationwide tally of infections to 5,248. Less than a month ago hundreds new infections were reported daily.

But the World Health Organization remains skeptical China's aggregate figures are precise, saying that Beijing could be underreporting milder SARS cases.

Daniel Chin, a WHO medical officer based in Beijing, told VOA that in some cases, SARS patients in China were released early or misdiagnosed as having pneumonia not caused by SARS. "We think that overall numbers are dropping, but this seems to be a possible gap in terms of the way cases are being reported… And the most important concern that we have, it's not only the numbers, it's really is the epidemic being controlled?" Mr. Chin said.

Liang Wannian, deputy chief of the Beijing Health Administration, rejects criticism. "There might be cases with false negatives or false positive symptoms," says Mr. Liang. He adds that "no city could be 100 percent sure that all diagnoses are correct," he said.

Meanwhile Taiwan is struggling with a growing outbreak of the disease. WHO statements are blaming lapses in infection control measures, particularly in emergency rooms, for the rapid increase in cases. But the U.N. agency does acknowledge that some of the increases reflect that Taiwan is now properly counting a backlog of cases that only now are being recognized as SARS.

Taiwan's added 39 new cases to its list of almost 400 SARS patients on Tuesday. More than 50 have died.

The outbreak is believed to have originated in China in November. Some 7,800 people have been infected and at least 640 have died worldwide, most of them in Asia.