This sums up tidily the

This sums up tidily the heinousness of the coverup:

Until Saturday, China’s government reported only 37 cases of SARS in the capital. On Saturday, that number increased tenfold. Today, the government listed the toll in Beijing at 693 infected and 35 dead.


SARS Madness Keeps Mounting

A friend called me last night from the supermarket and told me there was a 90-minute wait on the cashier lines. People are stocking up on packaged/canned food as they fear businesses in Beijing will close down because of SARS. I went to a popular restaurant last night for dinner last night and it was closed. SARS. This morning as I rode to work I saw an immense line circling down the street and around the corner. The people were queued up to get into a shop that sells medical clothing — gowns, gloves, caps and, of course, a variety of surgical masks. It’s good to see that somebody’s profitting from this insanity.

The NY Times has its most ominous article yet about the unreal situation here:

BEIJING, April 23 — Reported cases of a new respiratory disease in Beijing surged by 105 new cases today, bringing the total to 693, as the threat of deadly infection suddenly became the main topic of conversation in this metropolis of 14 million.

Migrant workers and college students lined up warily at railroad stations for tickets to their native provinces while thousands of residents, on rumors of possibly draconian quarantines, thronged to grocery stores to stock up on rice and noodles.

Health experts warned that hundreds more cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome appeared inevitable as the government belatedly struggles to contain an epidemic it had tried to conceal until several days ago.

This is followed by the quote of the day:

“Beijing lost the entire month of March in the fight against SARS, and now this is the consequence,” said Henk Bekedam, chief of the World Health Organization office here.

Today’s my last day at work in Beijing. I can now claim that I was present when China got turned upside down.

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Andrew Sullivan on SARS and HIV

This comment is from early in the week and somehow I missed it.

SARS is obviously a huge worry. But it still makes sense to recall that many more people have died of the flu recently than of SARS – and almost certainly will do in the coming months. But what does worry me is the possibility of a combined SARS and HIV epidemic across the developing world. People with weaker immune systems, as Luc Montagnier has just pointed out, are far more vulnerable to viruses like SARS. Healthy HIV-positive people in the West might do okay (fingers crossed), but the death-rates in Africa or Southeast Asia could surely soar from the double-whammy.

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Sullivan Redeems Himself

Andrew Sullivan today posts a whole string of superb comments on the controversy over Sen. Rick Santorum’s anti-gay, anti-sexual freedom remarks, which he refuses to retract. Sullivan is doing here exactly what he did with Trent Lott just a few months ago. This is where I admire Sullivan most: he can be like a pit bull, and he makes his aruments air-tight. (Where I don’t admire this tendency so much is when he shifts from eloquence to shrillness, which he did during the pre-Iraq invasion months. I basically agreed with him, but he was still shrill)

This is just one snippet, but you have to see all of his posts:

The point is that Santorum is proposing a politics that would essentially abolish domestic sexual privacy – for all of us, if we deviate from “correct” sexual practice. Many social conservatives, I think, may oppose same-sex marriage or gays in the military, but most don’t want to send the cops into bedrooms across America to jail gay citizens. They may disapprove of adultery, but still not want the police investigating. They see the difference between what is publicly normative and what is privately permitted. They adhere, like the vast majority of fair-minded people, to the very American notion of live-and-let-live. Even Bill Kristol has publicly said he opposes anti-sodomy laws. But Santorum, in these remarks, clearly doesn’t. What he disapproves of mustn’t only be denied public recognition; it must be criminalized. If you think I’m exaggerating, read his full comments. They are not a relic of a bigoted past, as Trent Lott’s were. But they are an expression of a bleak future, in which tolerance and privacy are subject to the approval of “moral” majorities and enforced by the police. If that truly is his view, he needs to explain it further. And the Republican party has to ask itself if it wants an unconservative extremist as one of its leaders.

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Email from a Hong Kong Reader


Thanks for reporting the SARS crises in Beijing (a sea of white masks). I feel it is my duty to let you know what is happening in Hong Kong now, although the masks are more colorful (some with hello kitty on it).

70% of the population wear a face mask. Retail staff are wearing disposable caps and gloves too.

Lifts buttons are covered with a plastic sheet which is changed every 2 to 3 hours. All public places are fumigated daily. some twice.

An entire housing complex which is infected is cordoned off with all residents sent into quarantine.

Hospital workers are not allowed to go home after their work shift to prevent transmitting to their family. They have to stay in make-shift quarters.

All non-emergency operations are cancelled (including cancer) because hospital operation rooms are now turned into ICU wards for SARS patients. Private hospital beds are “drafted” to cater for “general” patients.

Strictly no family visiting of all patients (including non-SARS patients) in hospitals. No last rite allowed. Patient cannot see their family before they die. They allow them to do it through mobile phone.

No make-up allowed for patients died of SARS. Coffin must be sealed. Can’t even say last goodbye in funeral.

All schools suspended (3 weeks). Some even indefinitely in infected areas. All students must pass temperature check and step on disinfectant soaked carpet before entering school. Hand wash every hour. Strict all day face mask rule. Heavy dose Vitamin C for every student. No school lunch in canteen. Teacher supervised lunch in classroom only (strictly no talking). No physical contact with other students.

Temperature check at airport in and out. One passenger found sick, the entire plane’s passenger are quarantined.

All shops, banks, offices, restaurants, schools will be closed immediately for disinfection if one case is found among the staff. The entire team of staff will be sent into quarantine and the place disinfected.

Cinemas and restaurants are closing down to cut loss. 70% of the airplanes are grounded, hotel are empty (one 5-star recorded 0.3% occupancy). It is now causing an “economic meltdown” in a once prosperous city.

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Beijing mass exodus

This article deserves to be quoted in full:

BEIJING (Reuters) – A sea of people in white masks thronged Beijing railway stations on Wednesday as hundreds of students and migrant workers tried to flee from China’s capital following the outbreak of SARS.

Disinfection squads spread across the mammoth nation as the government stepped up the war against the disease.

Armies of workers in masks and rubber gloves and armed with spray guns spritzed down airports and planes, buses and terminals, trains and stations.

The government canceled domestic travel tours, sent teams of medical experts to the provinces to contain the virus and canceled classes for Beijing’s 1.7 million school students.

The World Health Organization has said the disease, already present in 19 cities, provinces and regions, could explode across the country of 1.3 billion people if sharp measures were not taken to curb it.

Worried migrant workers and university students flocked to train and bus stations and airports in the hope of getting out of Beijing, where the government has raised the number of cases from 37 to 588 in three days, out of the country’s 2,158.

The city of 14 million people has also reported 666 suspected cases and 28 deaths. Ninety seven people have died across the country so far.

Hundreds of travelers lugging suitcases clogged the square in front of Beijing Railway Station in hopes of getting on one of the dozens of train going to the north, south and west.

A sea of faces in white cotton masks scanned coveted train tickets, waiting for hours outside in the open, chilly air rather than linger in crowded, enclosed waiting rooms.

“My train doesn’t leave for another six hours, but I’m not waiting inside,” said 20-year-old Cao Shu, a student whose university halted all classes two days ago because of SARS fears. I’M SCARED”

[Courtesy The Gweilo]


From today’s Times: BEIJING, Wednesday,

From today’s Times:

BEIJING, Wednesday, April 23 — With a terse announcement in this morning’s newspapers, the city of Beijing closed all its primary and secondary schools until May 7 at least….

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Back to Tibet, for a Minute

It’ll be refreshing to get away from SARS, if only for a moment.

More than any other topic I’ve posted about, my recent posts on Tibet generated the most reader response, some of it very passionate. I know I will lose a couple of friends, but after doing my own research I have to conclude:

1. Pre-“liberation” Tibet was nothing at all like the Paradise that many Westerners (like me) have been led to believe. It was a theocratic serfdom of vast inequalities and, for those on the bottom, near-slave-like conditions. China seized on this as justification for its takeover in 1950.

2. That said, I have to conclude it was more an invasion than a liberation. The Chinese sincerely believe the Tibetans should be grateful to them for paving Tibet’s roads and making it a tourist attraction, and I can understand this viewpoint. But many Tibetans feel they can never forgive the destruction/desecration of their monasteries, not to mention their cultural heritage. If indeed it was a liberation for which the Tibetans are grateful, there would be no need for China today to maintain its heavy-handed military and police presence there.

There are a lot of grey areas here, and I’ve learned a lot trying to figure it all out. Some of the Chinese who wrote to me about the Dalai Lama have a good point about how he has been popularized by the US media, with an entire cottage industry growing up around the “Free Tibet” movement. So I no longer see him so much as the saintly, loving victim of China’s evil. But I do believe his gripe with China’s takeover has enough validity to put me closer to his side than to that of the invaders.

The most impassioned response I got was from a Xiangangren, who got apopleptic after I posted the point of view of a native Chinese reader:

Why don’t we hear what true Tibetan have to say about all this instead of tuning in to what we want to hear and what they want us to believe? However, under the present regime, can the ordinary Tibetan speak freely of their plight? Haven’t enough Tibetans been killed and permanently muffled to justify that fear?

Dalai Lama or not, the CCP cannot tolerate any religion because they are the biggest and most evil cult existed in human history. They want the people to idol worship them as gods. How can they allow other religions to contest their authority and untouchable position? And, like god, they can determine whether you live or die (and the way how you die).

He’s got a point. Okay, back to SARS….

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Beijing goes insane

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:

Dear colleagues,
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.


SARS Becomes an Institution

A week ago I spoke with a colleague in Hong Kong who described the atmosphere there as “surreal.” Now that same atmosphere has drifted north to Beijing, where the number of SARS cases just doubled again, approaching 600.

Two weeks ago one young lady in my office wore a mask. Today there are seven. I wish I had a camera with me on the subway after work yesterday, when I was just about the only one in the car not wearing one. I wrote an earlier post (can’t get the link thanks to The great Firewall) on how every restaurant hires an abundance of guards who stand in front of the building for no apparent reason. Suddenly, as of Monday, they all started to wear surgical masks.

Schools are still closing left and right. The government is now forbidding newspaper reporters to leave their respective cities to cover events/stories. I just received the following email from the office manager: “We have alcohol and wipe cotton available to you on the sign-in desk, please wipe down your computers and telephones daily.” This sort of thing is now commonplace. SARS has become an institution, another aspect of our daily lives.

One doesn’t often have the chance to watch an entire society transform this dramatically over so short a time. In some ways I feel very lucky that I can be here in SARS City to observe the phenomenon, and I am actually getting a bit sad knowing that I depart in just four days for my 3-week trip through South China, followed by the exodus to Singapore. History in the making….
[note: updated and title changed, 4:55 pm China Time, April 23]

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