| Chinese newlyweds pose for a wedding photo wearing masks. (Reuters)
Beijing, May 11 (Reuters): China’s premier vowed that every resource would be used to stop the spread of SARS as workers in the south of the country moved onto the streets to stop the widely-prevalent habit of spitting.
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which has infected almost 5,000 people in the country, originated in China’s south last year before spreading across the vast nation and overseas.
Over 1,000 sanitary workers in the southern city of Guangzhou patrolled the streets to enforce a law against spitting or dropping cigarette butts in public as part of local measures aimed at stemming the spread of SARS, Xinhua news agency said.
Doctors say spitting, sometimes referred to as China’s national pastime, can propel droplets to others and inadvertently spread SARS.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Wen Jinbao warned officials they would be held accountable for any negligence over SARS.
His comments, quoted by state media today, came a day after the World Health Organisation said it had still not received enough data on the spread of the epidemic in China. “Every patient must be treated, every contagious source must be segregated and every potential risk must be eradicated. No formality or pretence is allowed,” Wen was quoted as saying.
“The fight against SARS is a severe test of officials, who must take full responsibility of ensuring people’s health and safety. No negligence or excuse is allowed,” Xinhua quoted Wen as saying on its website. At least 240 people have died from SARS in China and more than 4,900 have been infected, the bulk of the world’s total of more than 7,000.
Wen voiced fears about the virus spreading further through China’s vast and densely populated countryside, where health services are ill-equipped to treat the virus, much less handle a major outbreak.
“There is still risk of further expansion. In rural areas, there are channels and potential risk for the spread,” he said.
The WHO has said it needed more data from China to help stop the spread of the flu-like disease that has already sparked widespread fear and riots in the country. “We don’t have detailed information from China on about half of the cases, which would allow us to track SARS effectively,” said spokeswoman Maria Cheng.
Together, China and its autonomous territory Hong Kong have been hardest hit by SARS. In Hong Kong, 215 people have now died from the disease.
An expert who helped pioneer treatment for AIDS is now collaborating with a team of scientists in the territory to design a drug they hope will control the virus.