Beijing mayor dismissed amid SARS criticism

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

BEIJING (AP) - The mayor of Beijing was fired following the disclosure of a tenfold increase in SARS cases in China's capital and charges he mishandled the outbreak of the deadly illness, state-run media said Monday.

The dismissal of Mayor Meng Xuenong came shortly after he and China's health minister were removed from key Communist Party posts, and the Health Ministry announced that the number of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Beijing had jumped from 37 to 339.

A Beijing city government spokesman, Liu Wei, declined to confirm the firing of the mayor, who was appointed three months ago.

Email newsletter signup

But detailed accounts in state-run newspapers said senior party officials accused Meng of failing to gather information on SARS, track new infections and trace people who might have been exposed to the mysterious ailment.

The flu-like SARS has sickened more than 3,800 people and killed at least 211 others around the world, according to health officials in the affected countries. The illness has killed least 94 people and infected more than 1,400 in Hong Kong, while mainland China has reported 79 deaths and more than 1,800 people infected nationwide. Singapore and Canada have also been hard hit by the virus.

Governments in Asia are adopting increasingly drastic efforts to stem the spread of SARS.

China called off its weeklong May Day vacation in hopes of stopping tens of millions of people from traveling and spreading the virus.

Singapore announced that all 2,400 employees of a vegetable market are under quarantine after a coworker fell ill.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said efforts to contain the spread of SARS by quarantining households of victims and tracking down potential contacts are paying off.

An additional 150 suspected SARS cases have been identified through stepped-up measures to find people exposed to the disease. Those people have been able to get early treatment - which Hong Kong doctors fighting SARS say is crucial.

''The figures are stabilized,'' Tung told reporters. ''I think we are making good progress.''