China, still reeling from an official SARS cover-up, is trying to stop more deception, this time of the extent of economic damage the deadly flu-like virus has caused to the world's sixth-biggest economy. The State Statistical Bureau said the illness, which hit retail sales and foreign investment last month, was likely to cause more disruption in May and June and officials should come clean about it. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has killed 300 people and infected nearly 5,300 in China, the worst-hit country in the world.
The bureau promised harsh punishment for statistics officials who provided fake data that could "mislead" policy-making. China, which joined an International Monetary Fund programme to improve statistical accuracy and transparency, has a long history of faking data.The government has moved to rescue sectors battered by SARS by offering subsidised interest payments on loans to airlines and travel agencies and a cut in taxes for other hard-hit sectors such as hotels and restaurants.