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China is 'hiding' SARS patients|
China is 'hiding' SARS patients
Trying to downplay cases, doctors say
Apr. 20, 2003 12:00 AM
BEIJING - Chinese authorities ordered doctors in Beijing to hide SARS patients from a team of World Health Organization experts last week in an attempt to downplay the extent of the epidemic, Chinese doctors and sources said Saturday.
Authorities transferred about 40 patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome to a hotel on the grounds of one hospital, and at another facility bundled more than 30 SARS patients into ambulances to prevent the WHO team from finding them, the sources said.
A worker at the Zihuachun Hotel, on the grounds of the Hospital No. 309, said several dozen patients were taken to the hotel Tuesday morning, the day WHO officials visited two military hospitals. The patients were moved back to the hospital later that evening, he said. Doctors at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital said 30 SARS patients, all medical personnel, were packed into ambulances during a WHO team visit to the hospital.
"It was done to avoid detection by the WHO. We drove the patients around Beijing," a senior medical official at the hospital said. "We were ordered by the Beijing government. We don't know if the central government was aware, but we assume it was."
The doctors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed a report first published Friday on the Web site of Time magazine. The actions, which doctors said were ordered by the Beijing city government and the People's Liberation Army, mark the most egregious in a series of steps taken by the Chinese government to cover up the epidemic.
WHO officials have raised concerns that China was lying about the seriousness of the SARS epidemic here and have said they believe the Chinese government is getting the message. On Friday, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao called on officials to stop underreporting the number of SARS cases. Wen also warned that officials will be punished if they misreport the seriousness of the disease. Chinese sources said they expect officials to issue new statistics on the disease today.
The official toll in Beijing is 37 people infected with SARS. But doctors say the real number is at least 200. Chinese doctors said the government would explain the massive jump by saying they have adopted a new, less strict definition of SARS.
"The reality, however, is that we've been hiding patients," said a doctor at You'An Hospital, which is believed to have as many as 100 patients, but has reported 20.
In Beijing, authorities are beginning to take stringent measures to contain the disease. University students are banned from leaving campus without a letter of permission, students said. At least one student has died at the Beijing University of Foreign Economics and Trade, classmates said.
On Saturday China's Education Ministry advised millions of university students not to travel during the weeklong national holiday, which begins May 1, in an attempt to contain the SARS virus, state-run media said today.
The warning could lead to a more sweeping advisory to all citizens to stay at home during the vacation period.
In Taiyuan, in the poverty-stricken province of Shanxi, schools have been ordered closed until May 8, officials said.
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