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.
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.