Local authorities in Wuhan, China, said the mystery illness striking down citizens is not SARS. Bird-flu and influenza have also been ruled out, as dozens of people were stricken by the disease of unknown origin, which mimics symptoms of viral pneumonia, with high fever being the main symptom.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has reported 59 people have fallen ill with the same condition, with seven people in a critical condition. Fears it might have been SARS have been ruled out in the initial investigation, as well as Middle East respiratory syndrome, influenza, bird flu, and adenovirus. Patients were being seen at several hospitals and clinics in Wuhan with similar symptoms to pneumonia.

Nine News reported Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said that a total of 15 patients in Hong Kong were being treated for symptoms including fever and respiratory infection after recent visits to Wuhan. Several patients had been working at the South China Seafood City food market in sprawling Wuhan’s suburbs. The market was to be suspended, pending investigations.

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong, the World Health Organization (WHO) had criticized China for hiding the actual number of cases, and Health Minister Zhang Wenkang was fired over the mishandling of the disease. Around 8,000 people were reported globally to have contracted the disease.

Coverup feared

Online activist Zhang Ruigen said there are concerns that the ruling Chinese Communist Party may seek to cover up details of the outbreak, as happened in the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, where hundreds of mainland Chinese died from the disease. Many thousands more were infected globally due to the coverup.

“I think the Wuhan government is cracking down on information,” Zhang said. “They are trying to do a news blackout, and they are calling the truth rumors and fake news the truth.”

“When SARS broke out in 2003, the government also blocked the news and said it was rumors, and then said it couldn’t be covered at all,” Zhang said. “This is still the same routine: they are calling it ‘pneumonia of unknown cause.'”
“The first thing they think about is how not to reveal the truth. The first thing they do is detain people and censor public speech,” he said, reports RFA.

A local resident  Feng agreed. “They are deleting everything, and people are frightened because they haven’t made an official announcement yet,” Feng said. “I think the local government wants to cover it up, because it’s the end of the year, and stability matters more than anything; that’s their MO.”

China was declared SARS free by the WHO in 2004.