China denies bird flu cover-up

China lashed out yesterday at the New Scientist article that strongly implied a government cover-up of bird flu cases that emerged a year ago. In addition, a correspondent for the magazine says the article may have been misinterpreted:

Another paragraph in the article was widely quoted by other media: ‘In fact, the outbreak began as early as the first half of 2003, probably in China, health experts have told New Scientist. A combination of official cover-up and questionable farming practices allowed it to turn into the epidemic now underway.’

Healthy chicken at a poultry farm in Longan county, Guangxi, being vaccinated by a medical worker. The paragraph was widely interpreted to mean the Chinese authorities were behind another cover-up after the Sars debacle last year.

But the New Scientist correspondent who wrote the article said in e-mail replies yesterday that it was a ‘misunderstanding’ and that she ‘did not accuse China of covering up the presence of the virus’.

‘On the contrary – I noted that because of the widespread vaccination of chickens, if they have the virus circulating they would not necessarily even know it because there would be no major bird deaths as we have seen elsewhere,’ Brussels correspondent Debora Mackenzie said.

‘The only point of raising these issues was not to try and blame China for something, but to suggest that it would be good, for the reasons I outlined, to know more about the circulation of H5 viruses in China,’ she said.

So maybe the jury is still out on this one. I think we have to give China the benefit of the doubt until we know more.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

Boy, China has become everyone’s
favorite punching bag or what?

It’s a good sport!

January 30, 2004 @ 11:21 am | Comment

Jon: “Boy, China has become everyone’s favorite punching bag or what?”

No, not at all; there’s a reason for the criticisms, and this didn’t all arise in a vacuum. If you followed the SARS story a year ago, you’d find interesting similarities in the chronology so far of the bird flu story. China earned its status as “punching bag” last year — it fought hard for it, went way out of its way for it, almost begged for it — so when situations like this arise, i.e., when a respected science journal says China is covering up a contagious disease, it would be very strange if it didn’t bring back all the memories of a year ago. And that’s what you’re seeing.

January 30, 2004 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Richard,

I will not call them respected scientists. No research, no data, pure speculation. They gave scientist a bad name. I wonder they are the same guys who blamed chinese when Mad cow disease first appeared.

Check out this article.
http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/army42901.cfm

“MPs demanded an immediate inquiry into the affair and accused Maff of smearing the Chinese restaurant trade to cover up the link to the Army. At the start of the foot and mouth crisis there had been a furious row when a Maff official alleged that illegal meat used in Chinese restaurants was probably to blame. Some restaurants suffered a 40 per cent drop in trade as a result and demonstrators marched on the ministry headquarters in London.”

In my eyes, this is pure racism.

January 30, 2004 @ 11:51 am | Comment

You may be right Steve, but the publication New Scientist is referred to as a respected scientific journal by many newspapers and wire services that reported the story. Maybe they screwed up here, it is not clear yet.

January 30, 2004 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

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