They have begun to account for a higher percentage of new cases this month Sars has begun to spread to the countryside while the number of new cases reported in Beijing continued to drop for the fifth consecutive day. In an interview with state television yesterday, Xu Dezhong, an epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health, warned that farmers had begun to account for a higher percentage of new cases this month. The number of new cases among farmers rose from 6 per cent last month to 6.2 per cent on Sunday, he said. Dr Xu said the figures were alarming because they showed that the disease had spread to rural areas in 15 provinces. Eighty-five counties in Shanxi, Hebei and Inner Mongolia have reported Sars cases. Shanxi and Hebei recorded 13 and 14 new cases respectively yesterday. Inner Mongolia recorded no new cases. Dr Xu said there was no room for complacency although the number of new cases nationwide stood at 80 yesterday, about 60 per cent lower from the peak in late April. It is widely believed that migrant workers have spread Sars to the countryside. The executive deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau, Han Demin, yesterday admitted that the number of new cases among migrant workers had grown in the capital. Migrant workers now accounted for 10 per cent of the new cases in Beijing, he said. Figures released by the Ministry of Health yesterday afternoon showed Beijing had recorded 48 new cases and five deaths up to early yesterday. It was the fifth consecutive day that the figure had remained below 60. Speaking before the latest figures were released, Mr Han said it was not objective to draw the conclusion that the outbreak had been brought under control merely based on the figures for the past four days. Mr Han's cautious remarks contrasted with comments by Liang Wannian, deputy director of the city health bureau, last Friday who hinted that the peak of the outbreak had been reached. In a tour of Shanxi province earlier, Premier Wen Jiabao warned the outbreak was not under control. Beijing Deputy Mayor Zhang Mao admitted that the disease had caused public panic in the city but said the situation had returned to normal. 'The best way to solve the problem is to show the public the result of the effective prevention and treatment of the disease,' he said. However, city officials sidestepped a question on why World Health Organisation officials and the media had been denied access to retired military doctor Jiang Yanyong. The doctor wrote to the media early last month, revealing that Beijing had had a much higher number of infections than the authorities had reported. Officials said they did not have any information regarding Dr Jiang but promised to give an account next week.