My travel agent called me today and said there is talk about the government blocking all travel into and out of Beijing, and she asked if I still wanted to book my long-planned trip to South China. A minute ago a friend of mine called and said the same thing, travel is going to be severely restricted. These may well be total rumors, but the anxiety they are generating is totally real.
Apparently Beijing has made it to the top of the charts and is now the No. 1 SARS breeding ground and the city has gone certifiably insane.
My own company just issued this:
As we all are well aware of, the number of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cases in Beijing has continued to rise over the past few days. The situation has brought a lot of anxiety and inconvenience. All of us, both the management and individual staff members, are experiencing an unprecedented challenge. It has affected our business to a certain extent; yet, most important of all, it will affect our health if not handled decisively.
To keep this threat to the absolute minimum, a concerted effort must be devoted from the company as well as all members of the staff. Literally, never before are we so ‘meaningful’ and ‘relevant’ to each other that what happen to one staff member will affect all other colleagues, the whole company, the entire floor of business activities, or the whole building.
While the company will adopt every possible ways and take every necessary action to ensure the hygienic level of our working place, it is also of vital importance that all staff members share the responsibility of keeping our company a safe place to work.
On the part of the company, a new batch of 3M facemasks has been ordered and the shipment will be delivered to the office by this Friday. In addition, herbal medicine for strengthening the body health has been purchased for those who prefer Chinese medication. Office premises will be cleaned on a daily basis, and alcohol wipes will be provided should you need them to wipe down computers as well as telephones.
It’s now beginning to take on an eerie dream-like quality, as each day the news in the nation’s capital grows progressively worse. I remember when I turned on the television set that fateful night in Hong Kong to watch how two jets had flown into the World Trade Towers. It couldn’t be real, could it? And then as I am watching, transfixed, the announcer interrupts to tell that another jet just flew into the Pentagon. That’s surreal, the epitome of unbelievableness. And yet there it was.
That’s really what Beijing is like at this very instant. One day the caseload is 27, the next it is 600. The government has been thrown into such violent upheavals that some are questioning if it can weather the SARS storm. And if it does, will it be the same government afterward? That is to say, it seems that SARS is destined to leave a permanent mark on how the ossified communist system operates, in how it relates (or fails to relate) to its people. That may be one of the rosier side-effects of the sickness. But right now, nothing looks rosy in Beijing.
On a very personal level, I am quite distraught about this mess. My closest friend in the world flies into Beijing tomorrow night for a three-week trip through South China that we’ve been planning for half a year. It’ll all work out, as everything does, but at this moment it’s a lot to deal with.