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China in all-out virus war
- Beijing to ‘significantly’ raise toll, says WHO

Beijing, April 18 (Reuters): China’s Communist Party leadership, accused of half-hearted cooperation with the world on the SARS outbreak and masking its own numbers, has ordered an all-out — and open — war against the deadly virus.

And in a sign the message may be getting through, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said China’s capital of Beijing would “significantly” raise its SARS toll after agreeing to alter the way it defines patients with symptoms of the flu-like bug.

The powerful Politburo Standing Committee said all officials had to come clean on all aspects of what it said would be a long and tough fight against a disease that has spread to about 25 countries, killed 170 people and infected more than 3,400.

“There must be no delay and no deceit in reporting,” state newspapers today quoted the committee as saying, after a special meeting chaired by party boss Hu Jintao.

The nine-man policy making body met yesterday just a day after WHO experts accused Beijing of not reporting all its cases, saying the city might have up to 200 SARS cases instead of the 37 reported officially. City officials initially ignored the WHO charge and the national government said it had acted responsibly since the first SARS case appeared in the southern province of Guangdong last November.

But today, the WHO team learned Beijing had slackened its rigid case definition in a meeting with health minister Zhang Wenkang. “Their expectation is that the number will be significantly greater than what is officially reported,” James Maguire, head of the team, said.

“The people at the top are totally on board,” he said of China’s changing tack. “What we’re seeing now is movement towards an urgent response and putting resources behind it.”

The party mouthpiece People’s Daily also devoted much more coverage to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, another sign the party was ratcheting up pressure on officials.

And some local governments began releasing figures on suspected SARS patients after weeks of reporting only confirmed infections. Beijing tallied 15 suspected SARS patients, the English-language China Daily said.

These numbers take China’s death toll to 67 and the total caseload to 1,485 for a disease that has spread to 11 of its provinces, regions and major cities.

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