China has isolated more than 600 people in the capital, Beijing, after a laboratory leak led to the first death from SARS since last year’s outbreak killed nearly 800 people worldwide, state media said on Tuesday.
China has isolated more than 600 people in the capital, Beijing, after a laboratory leak led to the first death from SARS since last year’s outbreak killed nearly 800 people worldwide, state media said on Tuesday. Across the country, authorities stepped up surveillance against the disease, which is highly contagious, before a week-long holiday starting on May 1 when millions of people are expected to take to the air, railways and roads. But the risk of a SARS crisis hitting the capital again was “very small,” the head of virus control under the Beijing center for disease control, Wu Jiang, told reporters. The 600 quarantined people, including 24 staff of the national center of disease control, were under collective isolation or bound to their homes, the Beijing News said. More than 180 staff of the National Institute of Virology, where a medical student who caught SARS is believed to have engaged in research on live samples of the virus, were already sequestered, most at a resort north of Beijing. The number of those in isolation, while climbing, pales in comparison to the 2003 outbreak, when more than 30,000 people were quarantined in the capital. All the cases diagnosed in the most recent outbreak — two confirmed and six suspected — were traced to the laboratory. Experts from the World Health Organization were to arrive in Beijing this week to help investigate the outbreak and prevent another. The WHO has raised questions of bio-safety practices at the laboratory. Another question was why it took nearly a month to determine the student had SARS, by which time her mother had died and she had made five train trips between Beijing and her home in the eastern province of Anhui. Some WHO officials have raised serious concerns the virus might have already spread via the nation’s railway system. But Wu was quoted as saying the chances were low because the source of the virus was quite clear. China has published details of trains and buses the student and her mother rode. The other confirmed patient, a nurse who treated the student at a Beijing hospital, had begun to recover, the paper said. But her aunt and another patient, both suspected cases, were running high fevers. SARS, which first appeared in southern China in late 2002 and then spread worldwide, had a serious economic impact across Asia last year with tourism and investment badly hurt. (Source: Reuters Health News, April 2004)