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Drug Company Faces Indictment for Rumor Spreading
The Roche Pharmaceutical Co will be seriously punished if it is found to have spread rumours that Guangdong was in the grips of a pneumonia and bird flu outbreak, the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Medicine Supervision said yesterday.

The bureau is now seeking and collecting evidence in relation to the allegation, according to an unidentified official.

The Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Public Security has also launched an investigation into the case.

Roche organized a press conference in Guangzhou on February 9, saying a bird flu outbreak was spreading and that an antibiotic medicine it produces had been effective against the flu.

There is a claim that the press conference resulted in more than 105,000 boxes of the antibiotic being sold in Guangdong between February 8 and 13.

A box of the antibiotics containing two tablets costs 59 yuan (US$7).

And many sales representatives from the company, the sixth largest pharmaceutical company in the world, allegedly went to major hospitals and pharmacies in the province to sell the antibiotics.

A Roche executive in Guangzhou has refused to comment about the case apart from saying the company is investigating the matter.

Meanwhile, two companies which illegally raised the price of their products in the face of the scare were fined 200,000 yuan (US$24,000) each, while another firm has been required to stop business in Shenzhen and Guangzhou for a week.

Local price bureaux are carrying out inspections to fight illegal price hikes in cities.

Ertiantang Drugstore in Guangzhou illegally increased the price of Banlangen, a traditional Chinese herbal, from six yuan (US$0.72) to 15 yuan (US$1.81).

More than 150 companies and stores that illegally raised their prices have been ordered to return the extra money they charged to their customers.

Huang Qingdao, director of the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Public Health, has rejected rumours his province is being attacked by the plague, bird flu and anthrax.

About 80 per cent of the province's 305 pneumonia patients have already left hospital, Huang said.

And no new pneumonia cases have been reported since last week, Huang added.

(China Daily February 17, 2003)

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