China: SARS situation still grim

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said the country's SARS situation remains "grim" as the health ministry announced another five more deaths and 69 new infections, raising the figures to 240 dead and 4,944 infected.

    SARS continues to plague China

    Speaking to state news agency Xinhua, Jiabao said SARS

    preventative measures have been working but that much work still lies ahead.

    "Looking at the nationwide situation, SARS prevention and control work has attained certain achievements, but the situation is still grim."

    China has been hardest hit by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus.

    Municipal authorities in Beijing reported late Saturday that 581 more people were placed under quarantine, bringing the total to 19,189. Beijing has reported 116 fatalities from SARS, about one-fifth of the global death toll -- alongside 2,227 confirmed SARS patients and 1,397 suspected cases.

    "The most urgent task at the moment is to prevent SARS from spreading to the villages. We must attach high importance to this," Wen said. He cautioned that there were still "channels" for SARS to spread to some provinces.

    Violent protests

    The sense of panic over SARS had sparked dozens of protests in the past two weeks. 

    Nine people have been detained in Northern China after violent riots erupted on Sunday in the coastal city of Tianjin.

    Tianjin has seen eight deaths and 149 cases of the disease. 

    Residents overturned cars, raided hospitals, and blocked roads to prevent the building of a SARS clinic. Xinhua said the nine arrested are accused of assaulting police, destroying property and looting.

    Inadequate health care

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) fears that the disease

    Many people outside Beijing are
    not recieving adequate health

    may continue spreading to rural areas of China. The ill-equipped health services outside major city centres could contribute to increasing the death toll and number of infected.

    But Chinese officials are more concerned with the rising prices of medical products associated with combating SARS. The State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC) said the prices of medical products had risen sharply in some villages.

    The WHO now has teams in three provinces as it tries to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading.

    In other developments

    • Chinese officials in the southern city of Guangzhou have sent 1,000 sanitary workers to act as hygiene police. People who are caught spitting, throwing cigarette butts or urinating in public places are being fined as much $6, a considerable sum for average citizens.

    • Researchers at the University of Hong Kong say they have found a way to prevent SARS from entering human cells, raising hopes that treatment might be possible.

    • Canada has had no new reported cases since late April, and could be declared SARS-free as early as next week, say officials.

    • In Singapore, people entering public hospitals are to have their movements electronically tracked in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.


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