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China prepares for return of SARS

China is on alert for the return of SARS as the cold weather sets in, with epidemiologists saying the virus is certain to make a comeback.
/ Source: Reuters

China is on heightened alert for the return of SARS as the cold sets in, with the northern port of Tianjin resuming temperature checks and top epidemiologists saying the virus is certain to make a comeback.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted experts including Zeng Guang, of China’s disease control and prevention center, saying that the flu-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome would “definitely” return over winter.

“But the scale of the epidemic depends on the control measures we take,” Zeng told a symposium in Beijing.

Held for observation
Passengers arriving in at the northern port of Tianjin with temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) or above were to be held for medical observation and reported to authorities, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing, where temperatures have dipped in the past week and hover close to freezing at night, was staffing its disease control center around the clock, Xinhua said, adding Inner Mongolia and Shanxi had re-activated their emergency response systems.

SARS emerged in southern China as winter began last year, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 700 around the world. More than 5,300 people caught the disease in China, which for months failed to disclose the scale of contagion.

China resumed announcing its daily caseload immediately after a laboratory researcher in Singapore became the first person to contract SARS in months, but it has yet to report a new case.

Emphasis on reporting
At a top-level meeting on Thursday, Vice-Premier and acting health minister Wu Yi warned that people delaying reporting or hiding cases would be severely punished, Xinhua reported.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent SARS expert from Guangdong province, said people should play more sports and maintain good respiratory health to fend off the virus.

“Spitting in public and eating wild animals are very dangerous,” said Zhong.

Many researchers have traced the deadly virus to exotic game markets in southern Guangdong and believe SARS likely originated from the civet cat, a delicacy on dinner tables in the south.

Hospitals in the capital have maintained special fever wards set up during the height of the outbreak in April and May.

But doctors say Beijing is grappling with a severe shortage of flu shots just weeks after it rolled out a high-profile campaign to vaccinate the population to make it easier to pinpoint SARS.