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North China City Steps up Rural SARS Control Measures
Residents of the northern Chinese city of Baoding are beginning to feel safer from the threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) after the institution of strict new control methods.

"I feel safe in my village since strict measures have been taken," said Liu Daocheng, a peasant in Baoding City in northern China's Hebei Province, about one hour's bus ride south of Beijing.

The supply of daily necessities is ample in his village, Liu said, and there were enough home-grown vegetables to eat.

Home to 11 million people, Baoding is facing a tough challenge in the fight against SARS as it is surrounded by cities seriously hit by SARS like Beijing and Taiyuan, capital of northern China's Shanxi Province.

Some 300,000 migrant workers have returned to Baoding from the SARS-hit areas since the early April. Out of the 35 confirmed SARS cases in Baoding, nine were returned migrant workers.

To prevent the further spread of SARS in the countryside, Baoding has offered free treatment to SARS patients and financial subsidies to designated hospitals.

A prevention and control system consisting of city, county, town, township and village authorities has been established. Under the system, returned migrant workers are required to be under quarantine for two weeks before returning to their villages.

"Some people have loosened their guard as SARS takes a downward trend," said Wu Guotang, Deputy Secretary of the Baoding City Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC).

"But we must be well-prepared and take corresponding measures for a probable return surge of migrant workers as the time for summer harvest draws near," Wu said.

At the gate of Xiahexi Village of the city's Xushui County, two villagers wearing exposure suits are checking the temperature of outsiders entering their village.

Of 163 migrant workers at Xiahexi Village 87 have not returned home. Household groups have been organized to monitor the health of their visiting relatives.

An open letter sent to villagers seeking jobs in other cities promised to help their family reap summer wheat.

"I have to keep watch every day, so far nothing has gone wrong," said Liu Zhenwu, a villager heading a monitoring group.

"Only one neighboring villager is now working in other cities and he decided to stay there after we promised to help his family members to reap wheat."

"What worries us is that our wheat harvest might be influenced by broken-down cross-region reaping machines, rather than our health safety," said relaxed villagers.

"Look, that used to be a marketplace," said a 70-year-old grandmother, pointing to a deserted area.

"It was closed because of SARS."

"We hope the disease is eliminated as soon as possible," she said, "because we are losing opportunities to make money."

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2003)

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