Friday, April 25, 2003

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has added 125 new cases to the country's soaring tally of people suffering from SARS, and a major hospital in Beijing has been placed under quarantine in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly virus in the capital.

Beijing citizens start masking-up as SARS cases rise in the capital.

As of Thursday afternoon, China's official SARS count stood at 2,422 with more than 750 of those cases in Beijing alone, according to the health ministry. Altogether, 110 people have died in mainland China since officials began tracking the disease.

Those numbers don't count SARS cases in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. On Thursday, the former British colony announced four new deaths from SARS, pushing its death toll to 109, and said there were 30 new cases.

Worldwide, there are now over 4,000 cases of SARS, and more than 250 have died from the virus, a respiratory infection caused by a relative of a common cold virus that has no sure-fire cure.

China's reported count rose dramatically this week, after Beijing's mayor and the nation's health minister were fired on suspicion of covering up the extent of the SARS infection.

Although China's leadership has signaled the need for transparency, a CNN crew Thursday attempting to report on Beijing University People's Hospital being sealed off was temporarily detained and had videotapes confiscated.

At the 1,200-bed hospital, officials initially quarantined all staff and patients, but later in the day, a hospital worker contacted over the phone said some patients suspected of being infected with SARS were transferred to other designated hospitals.

Ambulances could be seen entering and leaving the hospital grounds earlier in the day, although guards posted at the entrance would not answer questions or allow journalists to try to talk with officials.

Beijing has designated six hospitals to handle the SARS outbreak, but the People's Hospital is not one of them.

It was not clear if the hospital was sealed off because SARS cases were discovered there, or if the move came in response to a city-wide emergency order to seal off facilities and quarantine suspected patients as a preventive measure.

Elementary and secondary schools were also closed in Beijing for two weeks starting Thursday, a step that could affect about 2 million students.


CNN correspondent Lisa Rose Weaver contributed to this report.