SARS Update

Extreme anxiety hits the city as a rumor spreads about two students at Beijing University dying this week of SARS. (Friends of mine insist it is true — these are responsible, adult people but who knows?) A Westerner in my office, married to a local woman, heard it from his wife last night and he, too, believes it. “You wouldn’t believe how students live on Beijing campuses,” he told me. “They live in dorm rooms with as many as eight guys, jammed in like cattle. It’s the perfect breeding ground for disease.”

As I said, it’s an unvalidated rumor. But this I can state as fact: All of a sudden they are disinfecting Beijing like there is no tomorrow. I went to the bank today, and two workers with buckets were scrubbing the counters and the floors and the ATM machines. I went back to the hospital and this cleaning frenzy was visible everywhere you looked, the floors, the seats, the doors, every surface was being scrubbed and the smell of disinfectants hit you in every corridor.

It’s definitely a different city than it was a week ago. Business is grinding to a halt (in my industry, anyway) as more and more of the multinationals send their foreign staffs back home. Just today the US embassy put out a notice suggesting that US citizens consider foregoing trips to China until the situation has been improved. Concerts and shows throughout the city have been canceled, as no one wants to sit in close proximity to others. I was laughing a few weeks ago when I went to Singapore and saw several passengers on my plane wearing surgical masks. Now as I get ready to travel to south China I’m pretty sure I’ll be wearing one as well, at least on the plane.

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