HONG KONG-China's top disease-control official has resigned over a deadly SARS outbreak in April linked to a Beijing laboratory, the Chinese government has announced.

Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Li Liming stepped down for "mismanagement of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus" at China�s most important infectious disease laboratory, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"Poor management of the virus triggered the SARS outbreak," Xinhua quoted sources at the health ministry as saying. "The SARS recurrence has been determined as a case of major incident due to negligence."

Xinhua quoted officials as saying poor lab safety management and irregular operations by professionals resulted in the pollution of a laboratory and SARS virus infection of some lab staff members.

The Diarrhea Virus Laboratory under the Institute of Virus Diseases of the center was found to have conducted SARS virus research adopting untested methods to kill the virus in an ordinary lab, it said. The also lab failed to report unusual health conditions among staff.

Four of Li's colleagues at the National Institute of Virology in Beijing were also disciplined, Xinhua said. The National Institute of Virology has been confirmed as the source of the country's most recent SARS outbreak, Xinhua said.

Two laboratory workers contracted the deadly virus. One of them later went home to east China's Anhui province and spread the virus to others, including her mother, who later died.

Hundreds of people who had contact with the patients were placed in isolation under medical observation. The outbreak was contained in May, when the last patient was released from hospital.

The incident awakened fears of a replay of last year's major outbreak, which killed 336 people across China, virtually halting domestic travel and battering the economy.

China was strongly criticized for initially hiding the extent of the outbreak and Li appeared at a news conference at the time to apologize for �poor coordination� in informing the public.

China also recorded at least four cases but no deaths during a limited outbreak in Guangdong last winter. #####

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