China has reported more than 150 additional cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS with 97 deaths and nearly 2,200 infections. The announcement comes as the government dispatches health workers across the country to help to stop the spread of the disease. This new urgency in dealing with SARS follows criticism from around the world about the way China has handled the epidemic. VOA-TV?S Chris Simkins has more.

China moved Tuesday to take further steps to stop the spread of SARS. Chinese state media reports health officials will travel to rural areas to ensure adequate supplies of medical equipment and drugs are on hand to treat people who may come down with the illness.

Beijing also ordered local governments to work with health officials and report new cases in provinces.

The action comes just days after China acknowledged the number of cases in Beijing was ten times higher than first reported. The Chinese government has come under criticism for its mishandling of the outbreak. World Health Organization investigators say Beijing?s failure to trace people exposed to those infected allowed the disease to spread.

Scientists suspect SARS may have originated on pig and poultry farms in Southern Guangdong Province. Sanitation there is poor and people live in close proximity to their animals. Investigators believe it was here that the previously unknown virus made a leap from animals to humans. Farmers like Qiu Ping do not think they should be blamed for the outbreak. He believes the virus probably did not come from the pig farm because the air is fresher here than the city.

Investigators say another possible breading ground is the exotic animal market in the city of Guangzhou. Here, local families make their living buying and selling all kinds of animals for restaurants. James Maguire is with the World Health Organization.

?We have a number of questions about the status of health of various species of animals in Guangdong, particularly asking about die-offs, asking about changes in populations of rodents.?

There have been more than 1,300 SARS cases and dozens of deaths in Guangdong Province, making it the biggest hotspot for the virus in mainland China. Meanwhile in nearby Hong Kong some 200,000 students returned to classes as some schools reopened for the first time in three weeks. School officials say the remaining 900,000 students could be back in class next week. Officials closed the schools after several students became ill with SARS. So far at least 99 people in the territory have died from the disease and more than one thousand others have been infected.