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Officials punished for SARS virus leak
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-02 01:06

Five top officials of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thursday were punished to take blame for this year's outbreak of SARS.

Li Liming, former CDC director. [chinanews.com.cn]
These officials, including centre Director Li Liming,, should take responsibility for the outbreak which started with the infection of two laboratory researchers by the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, Vice-Premier Wu Yi said Thursday at a working conference.

The small outbreak began in March and the World Health Organization declared it contained in May. One person died and nine were infected in the outbreak which was first reported on April 22. Most of the infections were reported in Beijing and two cases appeared in eastern Anhui province.

Two of those infected worked with the virus in the CDC's National Institute of Virology in Beijing.

Official investigation shows that it is an accident due to negligence.

The cases had been linked to experiments using live and inactive SARS corona virus in the CDC's virology and diarrhea institutes where interdisciplinary research on the SARS virus was conducted.

The CDC's mistakes also include allowing researchers to experiment with biological materials infected with SARS in common laboratories, and the failure to immediately report the abnormal health conditions of its researchers.

The Ministry of Health accepted the resigning application from Li and his deputy director Thursday. Ruan Li, director of the virology institute, and the rest two officials were removed from their positions.

All five were given other disciplinary punishments, the ministry said.

"The punishment of these officials shows our determination in strengthening the public health and our strong sense of responsibility in protecting the health of researchers and all residents," Wu said at a working conference for all staff of the CDC.

The State Council is drafting a special regulation on the safe management of biological materials in laboratories, Wu said.

Wu, who is also the Health Minister, asked all researchers in China's biological laboratories to strictly obey all operating rules while working.

The CDC, which now is located among residential communities of Xuanwu District of Beijing, will be moved to its new site in Changping District, which will be remote from downtown areas. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year.

More funds will be made available to buy advanced laboratory equipment for the CDC and its branches throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Wu asked health authorities at various levels to strictly observe the health conditions of researchers and pay more attention to protect their health.

One of the two sufferers in the laboratory, a female researcher from Anhui Medical University, surnamed Song, was not noticed by the CDC officials after she had SARS symptoms which included fever.

Song went to hospital by herself and then infected a nurse there, and even traveled to her home in Anhui by train.

The Ministry of Health announced at the conference that Wang Yu, a vice department director from the Ministry of Science and Technology, was appointed as the new director of the CDC beginning Thursday.

Li Liming became director of the CDC in January of 2002. The CDC and its branches were greatly challenged by the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Since last year's much larger outbreak, infectious disease control centres have been given unprecedented attention and investment since the SARS outbreak.

SARS first emerged in late 2002 in Southern China and spread around the world to infect 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries, causing nearly 800 deaths worldwide in 2003.

As the biggest victim of the virus, China suffered 349 deaths in 2003.

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