Police in a north China city said Monday that they have sentenced a man to two years of labour re-education for spreading rumours of an outbreak of the SARS virus in the city.
The man, surnamed Liu, was sentenced Sunday to labour re-education in accordance with the law, according to a police statement in Baoding city in Hebei province. The announcement was published on the Baoding public security bureau's website, which did not disclose the man's surname.
Liu worked as an administrator for a website and in a bid to improve traffic spread false information that a Baoding hospital had confirmed a case of SARS, the statement said.
The false information ... had an impact and disrupted the social order, the statement said.
In 2003, Chinese officials covered up the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome for weeks before a growing death toll and rumours forced the government to reveal the epidemic, apologise and vow full candour in future disease outbreaks.
The disease, which emerged in southern China in late 2002, spread rapidly from south China to other cities and countries in 2003. Over 8,000 people were infected and 775 died.
In the latest incident, China's health ministry denied that SARS had resurfaced in Hebei after Hong Kong's health authorities asked them to ascertain the rumour, Hong Kong's Department of Health said last Thursday.
Several people were hospitalised in a Baoding hospital for a common cold virus called an adenovirus, China's health ministry said last Saturday, adding that it had ruled out SARS and avian flu as the cause.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)