On the afternoon of April 20, the State
Council Information Office held a press conference
updating SARS latest developments on the Chinese
mainland. The Executive Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang
and Vice Minister Zhu Qingsheng answered questions from both
Chinese and overseas journalists.
journalist: Officials told us at a press conference a
fortnight ago that Beijing was safe for the Chinese people
as well as for foreigners in China. But the present epidemic
situation is becoming more and more serious. Just now you
also explained why there were some limitations to the data
reported some days ago. What on earth are the problems in
Beijing (or in Chinas health system) that deters you
from telling us the truth?
Gao Qiang: SARS has
not been fully understood by mankind and an entirely
effective therapy is still unavailable. Whats more, it
is very contagious. So I think if a place claims to be safe,
that safety is relative. Without good preventive measures, a
place that doesnt have SARS today might have it
At our last press conference
officials were saying Beijing was safe. I think their words
were based on the situation in Beijing at that time
when most of the SARS cases were in Guangdong and the
epidemic situation in Beijing was limited to very, very
small areas. But there have been some changes to the
situation in Beijing recently, as you can see in the data I
announced just now. SARS cases have been increasing
gradually and this reflects that there are some vulnerable
spots in the present SARS prevention work. The major problem
is: medical institutions in Beijing are subject to the
jurisdiction of many departments -- the Beijing municipal
government, the Ministry of Health, the military and so on.
This loose administration system has caused lack of
communication among hospitals: a failure to obtain accurate
information on the epidemic and a failure to take very
effective quarantine measures to prevent the disease from
CCTV: In view of the situation you
just briefed us on, the present epidemic situation in
Beijing is serious. What measures will the central
government and the municipal government of Beijing adopt to
curb the development of the epidemic?
Qiang: First, I think the most urgent and important matter
now for Beijing, as well as for all epidemic areas, is to
resort to resolute measures to prevent the epidemic from
spreading. We have employed rigorous preventive measures on
medical agencies to prevent medical workers from being
contaminated. We have adopted rigorous measures on confirmed
SARS patients, suspected SARS cases and those who have had
close contact with SARS patients. We have taken rigorous
measures in observation, surveillance and tracking on
airlines, trains, buses and other (public) vehicles.
We have adopted another important measure: the
State Council has decided to suspend the May Day vacation of
seven days and return to the normal holiday vacation system,
to avoid the epidemic from possibly spreading in the
movement of large numbers of travelers. I think this measure
will result in a great loss of income for Chinas
tourist sector. However, the Chinese government wants to
give top priority to the lives and health of the people.
Second: enforcing guidance of epidemic
prevention work in different areas in the country. The
Chinese government has dispatched supervision groups to
Guangdong, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, and more recently, to
Shanxi, Henan, and Ningxia. Why did we send a supervision
team to Ningxia when there was only one SARS case there?
Ningxia is in the west of China where medical conditions are
relatively bad and the income level of the local residents
there is relatively low. Protecting the vast rural area of
west China from being caught by the epidemic is an issue of
great concern to the Chinese government.
want to enhance preventive and surveillance measures in
schools, especially middle schools and primary schools,
government offices and the military where population is
dense. We have taken measures to protect the health of
foreigners in China and residents of Hong Kong, Macao, and
Third: integrate national medical
research resources to tackle the issue and improve medical
measures to cure more patients and reduce the mortality
Fourth: set up a medical aid fund for
low-solvency patients and farmers. A document issued by the
Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health and Ministry of
Labor and Social Security said that those who have economic
difficulties in paying the medical bill may receive
subsidies from the government. The budget comes from both
local and central government. In addition, medical workers
should receive medical care subsidies from government
revenue as well.
Fifth: further strengthen the
cooperation with WHO. While we are holding this news
conference, officials from the Ministry of Health are
reporting epidemic conditions of both Beijing and other
places (in the whole country) to the WHO expert team, aiming
to sort a better way out.
SKY TV: You just
mentioned that there will be no long vacation this May Day.
As we know, 74 million people traveled around China during
the last May Day golden week. Does the canceling of the
vacation mean, officially, that the Chinese government
declares that China is not a safe place to travel in now?
Gao Qiang: The canceling of the May Day
holiday aims to further prevent the spread of SARS under the
current epidemic situation. We believe strict measures are
necessary. We dont forbid all traveling activities. We
suggest not to travel too far; local travel is advocated.
Reporter from Netherlands: In the cooperation
between the Ministry of Health and WHO, information
collection measures are clearly stated, but why are these
measures overridden by the Ministry of Health?
Gao Qiang: Due to insufficient awareness of
the SARS situation, the information collection system was
far from perfect at the beginning. As for Guangdong, they
have a better system in terms of reporting and technology,
because Guangdong was involved earlier; things are the
opposite in Beijing. Besides, the Ministry of Health has not
undertaken powerful direction and inspection work in Beijing
and this is our problem.
ABC: You just
mentioned that the inaccurate figures are due to some
mistakes in your work. But is it possible that the Chinese
government disguised the epidemic deliberately, in
particular those cases hidden from the World Health
Organization (WHO) team? Its been reported that some
SARS victims were hidden in ambulances or hotels while the
WHO team was inspecting. Do you believe these reports are
true? And is there any investigation under way to determine
whether SARS cases were intentionally hidden from the
Gao Qiang: I think that inaccurate
statistics are totally different from deliberate action to
disguise the facts. We asked all regions to report the
actual figures, and release the facts to the public. No
delay, cover-up or missing cases were allowed. Till now, I
havent found any place which has done so. Weve
dispatched some supervision teams to some regions. One of
their tasks is to check the actual conditions of the
epidemic. Wherever they are, they will punish those who have
covered up actual SARS cases and will inform you (the
public) in time. If any of you know of such cases, I hope
that you will tell me, but the information you offer must be
Taiwan ETTV: I want to ask Mr.
Minister, is there any leading official or ministry taking
responsibility for SARS? Whats more, its said
that a SARS peak will come next week, what do you think of
the news? Third, the large number of migrants in Beijing
makes it difficult to curb the spread of the epidemic. Will
Beijing take further measures on non-natives?
Gao Qiang: The main task currently is to take
effective measures to curb the spread of SARS, and
strengthen medical aid in order to make more patients
recover, instead of tracing someones responsibility.
Now, we are considering strengthening medical work, and
perfecting our measures in order to achieve a better result.
Just now, the lady asked if there will be SARS breakout: I
dont know what the breakout refers to? Since more than
300 SARS cases have been found, I think that its
already serious. Considering that some patients will be
excluded from over 400 suspected SARS cases after diagnosis,
and some will be confirmed to be infected, the number of
SARS patients will increase in the next few days. But it
doesnt mean that SARS will spread widely in Beijing.
These SARS patients were mainly hospitalized at the end of
March and beginning of April. Yesterday, I received
Beijings SARS report, which shows 7 more cases have
been found. These cases arent included in todays
report; we will add them in tomorrows report.
As an international metropolis, Beijing has a
population of over 10 million and daily migrants of 4
million. I think we should take effective measures to
prevent the further spread of SARS, and keep normal order in
peoples life and work at the same time. Both of them
are wrong if we ignore the spread of SARS or affect
peoples life and work by overestimating the epidemic
also. We will adjust our plan according to the actual SARS
condition in Beijing to prevent and control it.
NBC: My question is what are the main symptoms
of the suspected cases? Does China follow consistent
standards with WHO in diagnosing suspected cases? My second
question: experts from WHO said a larger number of patients
are under close observation in Beijing who were neither
confirmed to have caught SARS nor proved to be suspected? Do
you have figures for this category?
Qingsheng: As Executive Vice Minister Gao pointed out just
now, SARS is a new kind of disease which started at the
beginning of this century and still remains unknown to
mankind. In the past months, the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region and Taiwan Province, as well
as other countries around the world, have diagnosed and
treated the disease and studied its cases, but we are still
at a stage of exploration. We cannot say all problems
relating to SARS are solved. We have had academic exchanges
with WHO; Hong Kong and Taiwan of China and other countries
recently on the diagnosis and treatment of SARS cases, and
suspected cases, through the Internet and other means.
Now in clinical diagnosis we follow three
standards: first, the patient has had some activity relating
to the epidemic, for example, contact with an infected
patient or a history of having been to an epidemic-infected
area. Some data is easy to get, for instance, one (team) has
been to an area with many SARS cases; while some is not so
obvious (to follow), such as taking a bus or going to a
hospital. Its hard to decide whether one is infected
by a certain person or a certain environment.
Another aspect is the symptoms in clinical
diagnosis: a high fever, dry cough, being short of strength,
a shadow on a chest X-ray. To our satisfaction, WHO has
announced the discovery of the cause of SARS as a new kind
of corona virus.
If one or two symptoms occur,
we judge it as a suspected case. China has kept contact with
WHO and some other countries and regions where SARS cases
are found. The diagnosis standards adopted by Chinese
doctors on confirmed SARS cases and suspected cases are
basically consistent with those of other countries and
regions. We have communicated well and had friendly
cooperation with WHO experts during their inspection tour in
Guangdong and Beijing; whether in clinical diagnosis or
treatment. We reached good consensus on the diagnosis and
treatment of the disease. WHO experts also acclaimed
Chinas contribution in this respect. The Chinese
mainland has the most SARS cases up to now and is the area
which has seen the earliest SARS cases. We should contribute
in this respect and may contribute more in the future. WHO
experts have conducted investigations in Guangdong Province,
south China, and the capital city, Beijing. They have
reached a consensus, to a great extent, with the Chinese, on
SARS diagnosis and clinical treatment.
Radio International: Just now Vice Minister Gao said that
the Chinese government has set up a medical aid system to
treat SARS patients living in poverty or in rural areas. But
there are still reports that some patients were refused at
some hospitals because they could not afford the payment.
Could you confirm this situation?
Gao Qiang: I
have also taken notice of the situation you mentioned. This
phenomena really exist in some places. But I should think
these hospitals have both subjective and objective reasons
for actually doing so. For example, some hospitals cannot
handle epidemics as they may be only centers for heart
disease. If a SARS patient goes there, he might possibly not
receive effective treatment. To solve these problems, we
have taken the following measures.
have designated six special hospitals in Beijing to treat
SARS patients. The publication of the addresses and phone
numbers of these hospitals has enabled SARS infectors not
only to receive timely treatment, but also prevent the
further transmission of the disease.
in some well-equipped hospitals, we have set up isolated and
special out-patient service centers for respiratory
diseases. The hospitals should give timely isolation,
observation and judgment on patients who show symptoms of
fever and cough, certainly not the normal cough but
pharyngitis. Also they (patients) should be reported to
relevant public health department. After receiving a report,
the relevant department must send out experts, medical
workers and ambulances immediately to the spot. If the
patients are diagnosed as suspected SARS cases, they should
be sent to designated hospitals.
also put forward strict requirements for the presidents of
the hospitals and the discipline they should observe. They
should not reject any patients on any excuse, including an
economic excuse. If the hospital really has difficulty in
receiving patients, it should find a place of temporary
isolation for the patient and immediately report the case.
The relevant departments will take measures. No hospital is
allowed to reject a patient out of its door. If we find any
rejection case, we will give them severe punishment. Report
of such phenomenon is also welcome by society.
Wang Guoqing: What Gao mentioned just now
applies not only to Beijing but the nationwide regions where
SARS cases are found.
promising to be more open with the numbers of the suspected
SARS cases and actual SARS cases; Im wondering you
also mentioned that there will be a daily report. What is
the mechanism for that report? And also since youre
going to be open with the numbers, could you perhaps be more
open with the numbers of the cost, for example, what the
budget is for the Ministry of Health right now, how much
money is the budget for SARS, and how is it going to be
divided between the central government and local government,
especially in the west, which doesnt have enough
Gao Qiang: Im not the full-time
information officer of the Ministry of Health, so I
cant give such a news conference everyday. I think
that information will be released through media
organizations. No matter what kind of form it will take, I
hope that every journalist who cares about SARS prevention
and control in China gets related information. As for the
question the gentleman just asked about the capital input in
SARS prevention, thats my special area, because I
worked as the vice-minister of finance for many years.
As for the accurate figure of how much money I
have and how much money is needed for SARS prevention and
control, I can only tell you that its X. But I pledge
that the Chinese government will try to prevent, control and
cure the epidemic through both central and local budgets, no
matter how much money it will spend. The Ministry of Health
and Ministry of Finance have reached a consensus that the
Ministry of Finance will give full financial support as long
as the expenditure in their budget is reasonable.
After over 20 years of reform and opening-up,
China has accumulated a solid economic foundation, and
Chinas fiscal revenue has currently performed very
well. In the first quarter of 2003, fiscal revenue increased
26 percent over the same period last year, so the epidemic
prevention and control will not be influenced by capital
Voice of America: I have two
questions. First, the mortality rate seems to have gone up a
little bit, is it significant to the issue? Secondly, there
are many calls and promises for accountability. Are you
aware of any official, at the provincial, ministerial or
central level of the government, who will be jailed, fired
or verbally punished?
Gao Qiang: We are very
much concerned with the increase of the mortality rate. We
hope it will be zero. But so far we do not have medicine
which can effectively kill the virus. Guangdong has
developed some effective methods which can cure 80 percent
of the patients. The Ministry of Health is now collecting
Guangdongs experience in prevention and treatment to
popularize it in the affected areas.
of accountability, the Chinese government is responsible to
the general public. Well try our best to correct and
rectify the mistakes and deficiencies in our work. At
present, the major task facing the Ministry of Health is to
study, with consorted effort, the methods of controlling the
spread of SARS.
China Daily: China has a large
rural population whose income level is relative low while
the medical conditions in the countryside are poor. This may
lead to rapid spread of SARS among the rural population.
What can the Chinese government do to prevent such a trend?
Gao Qiang: So far, we havent found a
large-scale occurrence of SARS cases in rural areas. But we
have been highly vigilant for we know that the result will
be very serious if rural areas are affected since Chinese
peasants earn relatively less than urban people and medical
facilities there are poor and rural peoples sense of
self protection is less than the urban population. I think
its very possible for those rural people who have come
to work in the cities to carry the virus back to their home.
To curb the occurrence of such cases, we have
adopted the following four measures: First, all
transportation tools are required to take strict monitoring
and isolation measures. Any persons found having symptoms
will be sent to the floating inspection station in the
locality. Second, we will give the same treatment to migrant
workers in the cities as to its urban residents. Whenever
there are cases appearing among them, theyll receive
immediate rescuing and medical treatment. Third, we have
urged the rural population to watch out for the epidemic,
immediately reporting any suspected cases for timely
isolated treatment. Fourth, any peasant who is affected by
the epidemic should be sent to hospital for timely
treatment. Those people who have financial problems will
receive subsidies from local government. If a local
government has financial problems, the central government
will subsidize the local government.
Eastern Economic Review: I have three questions. The first
is would you like to give us more information about the
cause of the epidemic in Beijing? You just now gave us very
large numbers for cases in the city. Can you tell us when
the numbers of the cases started to rise dramatically? Can
you tell us whether the numbers of the cases each day has
began to level off or is still arising and how does the
seven yesterday compare to the cases in the last ten days?
Could you give us more information about these? And also
could you explain why there are so few medical workers among
the Beijing cases? When in other outbreaks, it seems medical
workers have been a much greater proportion of patients. My
second question is that you have taken extraordinary
measures to get accurate numbers in the city of Beijing. How
confident do you feel about the numbers in other parts of
the country? Do you feel perhaps the situation in places
other than Beijing and Guangdong could be as bad as in
Beijing and Guangdong? My third question is whether the
Chinese government is sticking by the code, which has been
made a number of times in last few weeks, for the foreign
community to continue to visit China, to continue to do
business in China? Are you still encouraging the foreign
community to come to China? Thank you.
Qiang: I dont think the phrase to rise
dramatically is accurate. Just now, I have said that
the increased numbers were collected by tens and hundreds of
personnel sent by us, taking one week to check out patients
scattered in various hospitals.
before, the number was 37, now it is 339, increased by 302.
But it doesnt mean the 302 people were infected within
the last five days. It could have been ten or twenty days
ago and they could be unregistered patients in some
hospitals. To check them out is a good sign of our statistic
work, but it doesnt mean the situation in the city of
Beijing is deteriorating dramatically. As for few infected
medical workers, I think we should thank the better medical
conditions, public awareness, and protection and prevention
measures in Beijing. Just now the lady had some doubts about
the accuracy of numbers in local areas; I can tell you that
we have sent inspection teams to deal with any cover-ups.
As for whether we are still encouraging
international exchange: arent you staying in China?
Monitoring is necessary, but maintaining normal
international activity is necessary too. I am not in favor
of saying China is the safest country in the world, or that
we can promise for you not to be infected by SARS, and I
dont agree with any judgment that China is a dangerous
country and you are likely to be infected very much here
neither. This plague is not exclusive to China. It has
broken out in more than twenty countries. We hope that more
measures may be taken to protect foreigners and fellow
Chinese from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, among whom, five
were under medical care in hospitals of Beijing. So far, one
Canadian has left the hospital, 2 Taiwanese are about to be
discharged after recovery. Whether Beijing is safe or not,
you may judge for yourself.
CNN: First I want
you to understand why foreign journalists in China have been
suspicious of the Chinese authorities. Over the past weeks
we have received distorted information once and then again
and the information has misled us and stirred confusion
amongst us. For instance, two weeks ago Minister Zhang said
the epidemic had been put under control; a week ago, it was
said that Beijing had 37 SARS cases, and when we asked
whether the 37 cases include cases in military hospitals,
you said yes. Why is it so hard to squeeze accurate
information from you? President Hu has said that any
cover-up, delay or discounted reporting is intolerable. But
the data you announced just now is yesterdays
information and you also mentioned that there are 7 new
cases. Why dont you report all the cases at one time?
Is this because you have not attached enough importance to
Gao Qiang: I think that I have
given enough of an explanation to similar questions but if
you still dont understand, Id like to say more.
Beijing is the capital of China and there are
work units of central government, local government and the
military. These units are respectively in charge of some
hospitals. These hospitals have received different patients.
This is an issue then about the Chinese medical system. With
the present system it is pretty difficult for the municipal
authorities of Beijing to collect accurate and timely
epidemic information in a hospital run by the military.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have sharply
noticed the problem and decided to put the epidemic
prevention work of all the Party; government and military
organizations, public instructions and enterprises under the
leadership of the Beijing municipal government. I think with
the leadership of this unified system the situation of the
previous days will not be repeated.