The Shandong government has declared it illegal to sack employees who have HIV/Aids, becoming the first mainland province to take initiatives to end discrimination against people who have contracted the virus. Health authorities in the eastern province issued a circular over the weekend saying that employers could not sack a worker for having the virus. Companies which violated the rule would be punished, the circular said, but it did not specify what penalties could be imposed. The new measure was applauded yesterday by Hu Jia , one of the mainland's leading Aids activists. 'Discrimination against Aids patients and HIV carriers is fading bit by bit on the mainland, but the government still has a long way to go,' Mr Hu said. He also said the most important issue for people who had the virus was the matter of keeping their status confidential. 'The institutions carrying out HIV/Aids tests should not disclose any information to employers. But the confidentiality rule is often broken.' Mr Hu cited the case of a man who had worked in a college in Guangdong and was found to be HIV-positive last year. 'The doctor who conducted the test later informed the college. [The man] had to leave the college. Even if the college didn't sack him, he couldn't bear the discrimination against him.' Mr Hu also said he had never heard of a mainland firm which had knowingly recruited an employee who had been diagnosed with HIV or Aids. Discrimination on the mainland often extended to family members of HIV/Aids sufferers, he said. For examples, many students had been forced to drop out of school once their parents had been diagnosed as being infected, he said.