Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Gaungdong finds possible SARS case

WHY THE DELAY?The man has been in hospital for almost a week, but his test results are still not available, spurring worries of another Chinese coverup

REUTERS , Beijing

Doctors in southern China examined a man with SARS symptoms yesterday as neighboring Hong Kong stepped up health checks on travellers to avert another outbreak of the deadly virus ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

China's first suspected SARS patient since the World Health Organization declared the world SARS-free in July was in hospital in the southern province of Guangdong where the disease first emerged late last year.

"We have heard from a hospital that there is a suspected SARS patient in Guangdong. He is a man and he is not a medical worker," a provincial health bureau official said by telephone.

Hong Kong Health Director Lam Ping-yan identified the patient as a freelance television station worker from booming Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province which borders Hong Kong.

Global health officials have been nervously watching for a resurgence of SARS since the start of the northern winter. Two recent cases in Singapore and Taiwan were linked to accidents in medical research laboratories.

An official from the national health ministry in Beijing said he had been informed of the suspected case but could not yet confirm that the man was suffering from SARS.

The Chinese territory of Hong Kong, a former British colony and hub for global travellers, stepped up health checks on visitors from southern China after being notified of the suspected case on Friday evening.

News of the possible new SARS case comes just weeks before the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday when there is a mass migration from China and Hong Kong overseas.

"Hong Kong will feel terrible," Beijing resident Hou Nan, 36, said. "It is sandwiched between Guangdong and Taiwan, which had one case early this month, and New Year is just around the corner."

If confirmed, the Guangdong case would be the first not linked to laboratory accidents since the World Health Organization made its declaration in July.

China has been on high alert for months amid fears the illness which ravaged many Asian economies and killed around 800 people worldwide might make a comeback this winter.

After emerging in southern China in November last year, SARS was spread by travellers. It went on to infect 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries.

Earlier this month, a research scientist at a Taipei military hospital tested positive for the virus. The only other case involved a research student in Singapore.

On Beijing's sun-lit streets, residents informed of the news did not appear alarmed.

"I don't think it will spread because everybody has learned lessons from this year's outbreak and have attached a lot of importance to this," said Hu Dan, a 50-year-old office worker.

Lin Qiang, a 35-year-old housewife, said she was not surprised.

"SARS cannot be eradicated overnight. It will pop up from time to time," she said.

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