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China Threatens the Death Penalty for Deliberately Spreading SARS

Violation of quarantine could trigger the punishment. Foreign adoptions suspended.

May 16, 2003|From Times Wire Services

BEIJING — China, pushing its battle against SARS, threatened Thursday to impose the death penalty on people who deliberately spread the disease and announced that it has indefinitely suspended international adoptions of Chinese children.

China saw its lowest one-day increase in cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome since April. But officials continued to grapple with its spread, pledging more medical resources for rural areas and warning of grave penalties for people who violate quarantines.

In Beijing, China's Supreme Court warned that people who violate quarantines and spread the virus can be imprisoned for up to seven years, the official New China News Agency said. It said those who cause death or serious injury by "deliberately spreading" the virus can be sentenced to terms of 10 years to life or might be executed.

Chinese authorities frequently threaten harsh punishments, including possible execution, during emergencies.

Police said Thursday that a doctor carrying SARS was arrested for allegedly breaking quarantine and starting an outbreak that infected more than 100 people in the northern Chinese city of Linhe -- the first known arrest on charges of infecting others. He was to be charged under a law that has a maximum sentence of three years, and it was not clear if the tougher penalties would apply.

The government's China Center for Adoption Affairs posted a notice on its Web site Thursday, saying it was suspending adoptions "in view of the epidemic situation" of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, and that it was "hoping to avoid cross infection that might be caused by a flow of people."

It was heartbreaking news to prospective parents, some of whom had received photos of the children they were on the verge of adopting.

"It's just an empty, horrible feeling," Jaime Fall of Prince William County, Va., told the Washington Post. He was preparing to travel to Yunnan province in southern China with his wife, Tammy, to pick up a baby girl.

More than 5,000 children were adopted by U.S. parents last year, making China the largest source of international adoptions in the United States, according to the State Department.

The worldwide SARS death toll stood Friday at 602, out of about 7,700 infected since the disease surfaced in southern China in November.

An international travel group predicted that fears of infection have caused such a downturn in tourism that the industry will lose nearly 7 million jobs this year.

SARS has killed 271 people on China's mainland, the world's highest death toll, and infected more than 5,100. Thursday's tally of new cases, 52, was the lowest one-day increase since April.

Taiwan reported three new deaths and 26 new SARS cases as the disease spread further into the southern part of the island, sickening 15 workers at one leading hospital and forcing officials to close its emergency ward.

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