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Premier says China can curb SARS

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday China was capable of curbing the spread of the flu-like virus SARS even though the toll nationwide climbed to at least 51 dead and 1,247 infected.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which first surfaced in China's southern province of Guangdong last November, is the first big crisis facing Wen's fledgling administration, which took office in March.

Wen declared it was safe to travel to the mainland even though SARS killed a Finn on Sunday -- the first foreigner to succumb to the disease in China.

"The Chinese government and people warmly welcome friends worldwide to come to our country for tourism, visits or to engage in commercial activities," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying.

The Chinese government has come under fire for a lack of transparency over the deadly disease, which has spread worldwide and killed more than 90 people and infected almost 2,600 others.

The cause of SARS, which has a mortality rate of about 4 percent, is unknown. Nevertheless, Wen declared China was capable of curbing its spread.

"The Chinese government is fully capable of controlling the spread of atypical pneumonia," Wen said. He did not elaborate.

Hundreds discharged

Chinese health officials have said hundreds of victims have been discharged from hospital after they were treated with Western and traditional Chinese medicine.

Wen urged all levels of government to "fully recognize the complexity and difficulty" of SARS.

The Finn was identified by Chinese health officials as Pekka Aro, 53, an official of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization.

Health officials were adamant the case was "imported" and that not one of the 19 infections discovered in Beijing originated in the Chinese capital.

The officials said they were monitoring people who had come in contact with Aro in Beijing and fellow passengers aboard the March 23 Bangkok-Beijing flight of a Thai airline. But they insisted no new cases have been found.

Wen Jiabao
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

Aro flew from Geneva to Bangkok on March 18 en route to Beijing, where he was due to attend the China Employment Forum from April 7 to 9, but it has since been scrapped.

He came down with a fever on March 28 and was admitted to hospital five days later with coughs, breathing problems and diarrhea, health officials said.

Another foreigner, a Canadian, was among the confirmed infections in China.

A team of World Health Organization experts is in Guangdong, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of the total number of deaths and infections in China, to investigate the outbreak, which has hit traffic to and from China.

A group of Kenyan runners has pulled out of the Beijing women's marathon, the Rolling Stones have postponed their first ever concerts in China and several international business events have been scrapped.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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