Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 1 News List

China steps up efforts to protect rural hinterland

AGENCIES , BEIJING AND HONG KONG

China promised more doctors, hospitals and money to fight the flu-like virus in rural areas as the Health Ministry announced four new SARS fatalities, raising the death toll on the mainland to 271, and 52 new cases of infection -- the lowest one-day increase since April.

Hong Kong said SARS had infected another five people and killed seven in the previous 24 hours.

The new deaths included a 36-year-old woman healthcare assistant suspected of having worked with SARS patients, the third Hong Kong healthcare worker to die of the disease.

Among the new patients was a nurse at a hospital with no previous staff infections.

The new figures took Hong Kong's cumulative cases to 1,703 and the death toll to 234, a hospital official told a news conference. Meanwhile, 32 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the total number of discharged patients to 1,160.

Authorities tracked down 24 people from Hong Kong who had attended a recent wedding in southern China. The father of the groom was later confirmed to have contracted SARS leading to fears guest might also have been infected.

Officials are trying to keep severe acute respiratory syndrome from spreading to the countryside, home to many of China's 1.3 billion people.

Rural areas account for only a fraction of its more than 5,100 SARS cases, said officials from the health and finance ministries. But they called for stepped up efforts to shield villages, especially by keeping migrant workers from carrying the virus in from cities.

``We haven't seen a major spread into the countryside, but we can't tell whether that might change in future,'' Qi Xiaoqiu, director of the Heath Ministry's Department of Disease Control, said at a news conference.

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