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2ND LD: China admits 31 deaths in Guangdong pneumonia outbreak.

HONG KONG, March 26 Kyodo


A mysterious atypical pneumonia in China's Guangdong Province, neighboring Hong Kong, has killed 31 people since an outbreak that began in mid-November, the provincial government admitted Wednesday.

A total of 792 people were infected by the disease by the end of February, the government said in a statement.

The figures contradict numbers given by the authorities last month, which reported only five deaths and 300 cases of infection.

The revelation was made as an unknown strain of pneumonia, named severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), claimed its first life in Singapore on Wednesday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 18 worldwide.

Some 500 people in nearly a dozen countries have been struck down by SARS so far, with Hong Kong being the worst-hit confirmed area with 10 deaths and 316 cases of infection.

Hong Kong health authorities earlier identified a 64-year-old Chinese doctor from Guangzhou who has already died as the likely source of infection responsible for spreading the virulent disease to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada.

A World Health Organization expert team is visiting Beijing to investigate links between the Guangdong epidemic of atypical pneumonia and the current SARS outbreaks.

SARS, which is believed to be transmitted through close contact with infected patients and respiratory droplets, has symptoms that include high fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and can develop into severe pneumonia.

The Guangdong government said Wednesday the epidemic in the province has been brought under control.

It said 24 deaths in the province's outbreak were in the capital city Guangzhou, while the remaining seven were from other places in the province.

The epidemic began in Foshan on Nov. 16 and then spread to Heyuan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Shenzhen and Zhaoqing.

The outbreak in Guangzhou occurred in late January and peaked in early February, the provincial government said.

Guangzhou had 680 cases of the unidentified atypical pneumonia by the end of February, while the six other affected cities had had 112 cases.

The provincial authorities said the number of new cases found in Guangzhou has been declining since March, while other cities reported no new infection since late February.

So far, more than 75% of the patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital, the government said.

It added that it will announce the number of pneumonia cases in March early next month.

The health authorities cited difficulties in diagnosing the disease because some reported cases were supposedly typical pneumonia.

Meanwhile, the spread of SARS has continued.

In a bid to contain the disease, the Singaporean government has ordered some 740 people who have been in contact with infected patients to be quarantined for 10 days.

No such drastic step has been taken in Hong Kong, but cleansing and disinfection measures have been intensified in schools, housing estates, commercial premises and businesses in various sectors.

Public fears in Hong Kong are growing as more people have caught the illness in schools, housing estates or workplaces.

About 100 schools have closed voluntarily and many worried parents have kept their children at home.

The Hong Kong government has been criticized for not suspending all schools to calm the public and failing to adopt enough measures to curb the highly infectious disease.

Deputy Director of Health Leung Pak-yin denied Wednesday that the outbreak in the territory was out of control, but conceded more measures are needed to stem the spread of infection.

The government is considering measures such as putting restrictions on visitors to infected patients, Leung said.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Mar 31, 2003
Previous Article:Japanese editorial excerpts -5-.
Next Article:SARS causing new concerns in Asia.

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