Beijing, April 17 (Reuters): China, accused by the World Health Organisation of dramatically under-reporting SARS cases in Beijing, dug in its heels today, refusing to revise its toll and insisting it is dealing responsibly with the outbreak.
But there was more evidence not all cases in China were being reported to the WHO and a fresh report the disease was spreading. The government declared one infection in the remote western region of Ningxia, but a doctor there said there were eight.
Hong Kong, the second most affected area after mainland China, said the virus killed four more people and infected 29 others, Australia reported its first three probable cases and India confirmed its first infection.
Underlining government concern, southeast Asian leaders will meet in Bangkok on April 29 to hammer out ways of tackling the virus that has struck a blow to their economies.
“The Chinese government has all along handled relevant problems with a scientific attitude, a responsible attitude, including understanding the outbreak, evaluating the outbreak and reporting,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
An official at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in charge of compiling data on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), also said the capital’s toll had not changed.
“Up to this point, everyone knows, there are 37 clearly diagnosed cases,” said CDC deputy general-director He Xiong. “I think government departments will definitely announce updates of such news to society as cases are diagnosed.”
The WHO said yesterday Beijing may have five times the official tally. WHO executive director for communicable diseases David Heymann said the WHO team of experts that visited two military hospitals estimated there were at least 50 SARS patients in one.
They “estimated there are between 100-200 probable cases in Beijing, more than has been reported, and they feel that there might even be up to 1,000 people who are under observation right now,” Heymann said in Geneva.
The illness has already spread to several provinces, cities and regions in the world’s most populous nation and there are fears the disease may spread further when 100 million Chinese travel during a week-long holiday in early May.