Shanghai will hold regular news conferences every two weeks in an attempt to increase transparency, following criticism of the government's initial cover-up of the Sars outbreak. The city started holding weekly news briefings in April to make Sars announcements, though officials often declined to answer questions. City leaders have decided to make the news conferences a regular feature even after the outbreak abates, officials said yesterday. The local government had designated a spokesman and a spokeswoman to handle the briefings, which will be held in a special room at the city's planning exhibition hall. The government also announced for the first time a hotline to handle press inquiries. Industry officials say authorities have given the domestic media more leeway to report on Sars, although they have cracked down on any direct criticism of how the government handled the crisis. In Guangdong, where the virus was first reported, officials banned reporting on the topic in early January after newspapers reported a panic in Heyuan city because of a mysterious illness. Authorities relaxed the ban briefly in February before re-imposing controls. According to the local health bureau, Shanghai has a cumulative eight Sars cases, including two deaths and three recovered patients. As of yesterday, the city had no suspected cases.