Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Cold front in China raises fears of a return of SARS


China is on heightened alert for the return of SARS as the cold sets in, with the northern port of Tianjin resuming temperature checks and top epidemiologists saying the virus is certain to make a comeback.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted experts including Zeng Guang, of China's disease control and prevention center, saying that SARS would "definitely" return over winter.

"But the scale of the epidemic depends on the control measures we take," Zeng told a symposium in Beijing.

Passengers arriving in Tianjin with temperatures of 38?C or above were to be held for medical observation and reported to authorities, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing, where temperatures have dipped in the past week and hover close to freezing at night, was staffing its disease control center around the clock, Xinhua said, adding Inner Mongolia and Shanxi had re-activated their emergency response systems.

SARS emerged in southern China as winter began last year, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 700 around the world. More than 5,300 people caught the disease in China, which for months failed to disclose the scale of contagion.

China resumed announcing its daily caseload immediately after a laboratory researcher in Singapore became the first person to contract SARS in months, but it has yet to report a new case.

At a top-level meeting last Thursday, Vice-Premier Wu Yi (吳儀), the acting health minister, warned that people delaying reporting or hiding cases would be severely punished, Xinhua reported.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent SARS expert from Guangdong Province, said people should play more sports and maintain good respiratory health to fend off the virus.

"Spitting in public and eating wild animals are very dangerous," Zhong said.

Hospitals in Beijing have maintained special fever wards set up during the height of the outbreak in April and May. But doctors say Beijing is facing a severe shortage of flu shots just weeks after it rolled out a high-profile campaign to vaccinate the population to make it easier to pinpoint SARS.

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