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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Reveals 12 More Deaths From Pneumonia

BEIJING -- China revealed on Wednesday 12 more deaths and hundreds of new infections from a deadly flu-like virus that has caused global alarm and said the disease had been found in three more provinces.

The southern province of Guangdong, where severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, first appeared in November, said the disease killed nine more people in March. That took the death toll to 46 and cases to 1,190, more than half the world total.

World Health Organization epidemiologist Robert Breiman said the outbreak may have peaked in Guangdong, from where the virus jumped to Hong Kong, then to countries as far apart as Australia and Canada, causing another 1,100 cases and 31 deaths. But it did not seem to have peaked worldwide.

The WHO, citing Chinese figures, said another three people had died and eight others were infected in Guangxi, which neighbors Guangdong, cases not previously classified as SARS.

It also said China had retroactively declared seven cases in Hunan province and three in Sichuan, all of whom had recovered and been discharged. Shanghai, on the east coast, said it was monitoring its first suspected case.

China's grim toll began rising early Wednesday when the Guangdong government, issuing figures for only the third time since the outbreak began, said in a statement that 361 people had been infected in March.

Between November, when the outbreak began, and the end of February, Guangdong had recorded 792 cases, including 31 deaths.

Beijing, a city of 14 million people, has had 12 cases, including three deaths, WHO said.

Just hours before the Guangdong statement, the official China Daily newspaper, in a rare blast by a Communist Party mouthpiece, joined a chorus of criticism from abroad about China's slow reporting of cases and limited sharing of information.

"Initially, local authorities failed to inform the public of the situation. In the absence of an official voice, people's worries were heightened by rumors," an editorial said in English.

"The harsh reality demands clear information disclosure from the authorities, so the public can be fully informed of the situation and take appropriate measures," it said in criticism not seen in the Chinese-language press.

It said Guangdong, where the vast majority of China's known cases have occurred, had recorded a total of 1,153 cases and 40 dead by April 2, and that 911 had been cured and sent home.

A breakdown showed the number of cases appeared to be declining -- with 145 in the first 10 days of March, 128 in the middle 10-day period, and 88 through to the end of the month.

WHO said the number of Guangdong cases had dropped 47.5 percent in March compared to February.

"Atypical pneumonia has been brought under effective control in the province but there are still some scattered cases," the Guangdong statement said.

But Shanghai, a packed city of more than 16 million people, said it was investigating its first suspected case of SARS, a disease that prominent economist Andy Xie called "the first big crisis facing China's new leadership."

Xie, a Morgan Stanley economist in Hong Kong, wrote in a report that the crisis could test an economy that grew 8 percent last year as foreign firms rushed in to take advantage of low labor costs.

"If mishandled, the SARS crisis could hurt China's economy for a long time," he said. "China must take emergency measures to restore investor trust."

Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper, financed by the Communist Party, said in a front-page story that Beijing had announced the cases only after President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who took up their posts last month, expressed concern. The report appeared designed to deflect criticism that China's new leaders were indecisive.

Even so, a team of WHO experts which applied last Friday to go to Guangdong only received permission to do so Wednesday. The lengthy absence of detailed information has left health workers operating in a vacuum.

"No one really believes the figures and that is the problem: that no one really knows how bad it is here," said one foreign health worker in Beijing who asked not to be identified.

The United Nations health agency on Wednesday advised travelers to avoid going to Hong Kong and the Chinese province of Guangdong because of a deadly outbreak of a mystery disease, The Associated Press reported.

The World Health Organization said it was taking the action because at least nine foreign businessmen have caught severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong and returned with it to their home countries.

"People who are planning to travel to Hong Kong or Guangdong should consider postponing their travel until another time," said WHO infectious diseases chief Dr. David Heymann.

WHO officials could not remember whether they had ever issued such advice before, but acknowledged that it is certainly the first time in more than a decade that the agency has told individual travelers to avoid an area.