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Beijing: SARS 'under control'

Medical workers in Beijing, China, help a woman into an ambulance to take her to a hospital for a medical check.
Medical workers in Beijing, China, help a woman into an ambulance to take her to a hospital for a medical check.

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The SARS epidemic in the Chinese capital is "under control" because of "effective measures" taken in recent days, Beijing officials told a press conference Tuesday.

Chinese Health Ministry officials reported another 10 deaths and 80 new cases of the illness in the last day.

Five deaths were in Beijing, where 48 of the newest cases were diagnosed. The death toll in China totals more than 260, with almost 5,100 cases reported.

"The number of new cases [is] clearly decreasing," said Han Demin, executive deputy director of city's health bureau.

Beijing's vice mayor, Zhang Mao, acknowledged a lot more needs to be done to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome cases.

He cited the need to further curb the infection rate and to improve the surveillance system for early diagnosis and quarantine.

Zhang noted that better training, strict rules, and standards and improved hospital management have generated a marked decrease in the infection rate among medical workers.

"We've appointed ombudsmen to check implementation of these measures in various hospitals," Zhang said.

Zhang said the city is pooling the best medical experts to conduct research and laboratory tests to improve diagnosis and treatment.

He said SARS-related information also is being pooled to improve surveillance of patients and track infection routes.

ICU facilities are Beijing upgraded for treatment of critically ill patients to decrease the mortality rate, he said.

During the initial period of outbreak -- from April 15 through May 1 -- more than 300 doctors and nurses were infected, Zhang said.

Beijing officials said the infection rate among medical workers has been curbed to single digit, down from nearly 17 percent last week.

"We will spare no effort to reduce it-hopefully to the point of no or very few cases," Zhang said.

A change in the operation of "fever clinics" is helping cut the rate of infections, he said.

Initially, many people were cross-infected in the 123 Beijing "fever clinics" because patients who had what turned out to be ordinary fevers were mixed with SARS patients.

To avoid cross-infections, feverish patients are now asked to call "hot lines" for consultation through which trained epidemiologists can ensure diagnosis that is more accurate.

Zhang said there were cases of initial panic in Beijing because people were caught unprepared to deal with the sudden attack of the disease. He said the panic would gradually wane.

"The key is to improve our work and show the public that we are getting better results," Zhang said. "And we should give timely answers to the public." Zhang said officials are now giving out truthful information.

"Government officials have taken a very open, honest and objective attitude in reporting on SARS to the public," he said.

A Chinese journalist asked Zhang if Beijing had contingency plans in case all its best efforts to contain SARS fail.

"There are still a lot of empty beds in designated SARS hospitals," he said. He said the city is prepared to take other measures to adapt to any changes in its battle against the epidemic.

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