The spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) is presenting a huge economic and political challenge to the Chinese government, which was widely criticised for its initial handling of the crisis.
This new disease, for which there is no known cure, first appeared in Guangdong province last November before spreading to Hong Kong and overseas. The mainland and Hong Kong accounted for three-quarters of all internationally reported Sars cases by mid-April.
However, several local doctors and health workers said the true figure was much higher than the official total. After a visit to two military hospitals in Beijing, a World Health Organisation team said that there could be many more unreported cases in the capital.
While most cases were in Guangdong, outbreaks were also reported in several other regions, from Fujian in the southeast to Inner Mongolia in the north.