China steps up anti-SARS measures

Agence France Presse

Kuala Lumpur, April 26:

China has stepped up anti-SARS efforts ahead of a major national holiday next week when millions of people will be on the move, China’s vice-minister of health Zhu Qinsheng told a news conference.

“We have instructed local authorities to take appropriate precautions and measures to prevent the possibility of the transmission of the virus and make the May Day holiday as safe as possible,” Zhu said after talks with his Malaysian counterpart.

The World Health Organisation expressed concern today that a new outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China, so far limited to two confirmed and six suspected cases, could turn into an epidemic and spread widely through the country’s rail network.

“Our airports and ports are taking measures to ensure things will go smoothly. We have resumed temperature screening in airports and railway stations. Passengers are also required to fill in health declaration forms,” Zhu said.

He expressed confidence that “the May Day holiday will continue and tourists will continue to travel, including out of the country,” but urged citizens to take precautions. One of the two confirmed SARS victims, a medical researcher, had taken long train journeys after contracting the disease and the government had notified the public of the train and coach in which he travelled, Zhu said.

The government had also asked that special precautions be taken by provinces visited by the train, he said, without elaborating.

Millions of people are expected to travel throughout China and abroad during the upcoming May Day holiday.

Asked whether China would be more transparent in reporting cases of SARS than it was during the first outbreak, Zhu said: “I’m confident that the Chinese government will timely share information it has with the world.”

Malaysia, meanwhile, announced it was on full alert for the possible spread of SARS and would reactivate some of the precautionary measures used during the first outbreak.

“We will increase surveillance on visitors from China. Visitors from Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing will have to fill in health declaration forms,” health minister Chua Soi Lek told reporters.