Premier Wen Jiabao has called for a final push to eradicate SARS, warning local officials against complacency amid falling numbers of new cases on China's mainland.
The Ministry of Health announced yesterday five new deaths and 69 cases - the lowest one-day increase in new infections in weeks. The mainland's overall death toll rose to 240, with nearly 5,000 confirmed cases.
During an inspection tour of anti-SARS work in the northern province of Shanxi on Saturday, the premier urged officials at all levels to earnestly implement the orders and policies of the central government, making continuous efforts in the ongoing battle against SARS.
"There absolutely can be no simply going through the motions, no acting in a superficial way," the premier said.
He warned of unseen "channels of infection" in Shanxi and other rural areas, where experts fear a shortage of doctors and hospitals leave them ill-equipped to cope with a SARS outbreak.
Shanxi has reported more than 400 cases and 18 deaths.
While inspecting the People's Hospital of Shouyang County and a health center at a nearby town, Wen asked questions about the preparation work for SARS prevention in these two places and chatted with villagers.
Wen told local officials that to prevent SARS from spreading to the rural areas is the urgent priority of governments of all levels at present and free treatment must be provided to SARS patients in rural areas.
At the local provincial epidemic control center, the premier said people will never forget the great contributions made by the medical workers in the special fight against SARS.
Though impressed with the province's work on SARS control and prevention, the premier said China still faces an arduous task, especially in the rural areas since the SARS situation is still very serious.
Wen said that governments at various levels should remain sober- minded that any laches and carelessness at work may lead to a big loss in SARS prevention across the country. So the governments should make continuous efforts to fight to the end.
The Chinese government announced yesterday it would allocate an additional 812.6 million yuan (US$98.3 million) to improve infrastructure and capacity of local medical institutes in a bid to prevent the SARS epidemic from spreading to rural areas.
The fund was on top of an earlier 1.55-billion-yuan special appropriation that the Chinese government had channeled to the construction of a nationwide disease prevention and control network.
The 812.6 million yuan will be earmarked for SARS control in the most severely affected regions. The fund will be mainly used for restructuring hospitals dedicated for SARS treatment and fever clinics and isolation chambers at rural county-level medical institutes, purchasing medical equipment and vehicles they desperately need.
In Beijing, the city's Party Secretary Liu Qi called for "total victory" against SARS.
"We can't allow the slightest relaxation in the fight against SARS in May," the Party newspaper People's Daily quoted Liu Qi as telling Beijing officials on Saturday during a video conference.
Liu told the officials to maintain restrictions that limit access to rural villages and construction sites in Beijing, while trying to minimize damage to the city's economy.
At a rally yesterday to thank other Chinese regions for helping Beijing, Liu said SARS had been "effectively contained" in the capital, but called for redoubled efforts to fight the deadly disease.
(eastday.com May 12, 2003)