01/05/2004, 00.00
China
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Sars: government decides to exterminate 10,000 civet cats

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Chinese health authorities have decided to kill all civet cats in Guangdong after a new case of Sars was confirmed in Guangzhou. The number of civet cats to be exterminated is around 10 thousand.

The action was passed after Hong Kong University researchers confirmed that civet cats (a species related to the mongoose), together with 52 other animals, are possible carriers of Sars. The list of 53 animals suspected of transmitting the  coronavirus was published last April. In July the government prohibited the sale and consumption of their meat. As time passed, people eased their attention and returned to consume such "forbidden meat". The civet cat is very common to the province and is considered a delicacy.  

Feng Liuxiang, director of Guangdong's Department of Heath, said all markets selling wild animals will be closed. "We will take resolute measures to close markets and kill civet cats." 

Roy Wadia, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman in Beijing, alerted the government to a potential problem: the killing of civet cats could give rise to an uncontrollable black market. He also asked that the elimination of carcasses occur under strict rules of hygiene in order to avoid further breeding grounds for infection.   

The confirmation of a new Sars case, which arrived yesterday, brought fear back to the government and people. Last year the disease killed 349 people in China alone, with more than 5300 infections. 

The new case, involving a 32 year-old TV producer, was declared to be suffering from Sars after almost two weeks. Doctors stated that the virus has slightly different semblances than those of past known cases.

The government and WHO are still in disagreement over a further case involving a waitress who checked into the hospital with symptoms quite similar to those of Sars. The waitress works in a Guangzhou restaurant serving wild animal specialities. The WHO is waiting for more precise results regarding case; the government has already strongly denied it being another Sars case.

Wang Ming, deputy director of Guangzhou's municipal disease prevention and control center said:

We have a patient suffering from pneumonia but has no direct relation to Sars. We have taken all necessary precautions for patients having fevers. Our center is closely monitoring the situation."

Between Nov. 2002 and June 2003, Sars killed 774 people in 32 countries. It created an embarrassment for the government, which for 5 months had denied the epidemic's real dimensions, thus allowing the disease to spread throughout the world. In April a WHO warning led to the isolation of some Chinese cities from the international community. The Sars epidemic and its financial consequences have cost Beijing at least 6.1 billion US dollars. Hong Kong, the other most affected area, suffered 4 billion US dollars in damages. All of Asia has suffered 20 billion US dollars in damages.  (VFP)
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