SARS Email Bag

One reader pointed me to an article translated from the Nanfang Daily — you can read it in Chinese here — that underscores my point about the irresponsible and self-congratulatory tone of our blessed media:

Guangdong Province Governor Huang Huahua said that Guangdong is confident that it has won the battle against SARS. Huang welcomed and thanked the WHO officers and experts who had come to Guangdong. Huang said that once the SARS epidemic occurred, the Guangdong Provincial Committee and Provincial Government with the support and help of the CPC Central Committe, the State Council and the concerned central government departments, made the appropriate response and decisions to lead and unite the people of the entire province to take effective measures that achieved clear results in just a short time. [Peking Duck: read this to mean they stifled dialogue and suppressed information, hiding their heads in the sand and allowing the situation to worsen in every way until the harsh glare of the world spotlight forced them to take action.] As of April 5, 82.2% of the cumulative number of reported SARS patients had been cured and left the hospital.

Governor Huang added during the counterattack against SARS, all the medical workers manifested the disregard to personal difficulty, the tirelessness, and self-sacrificing spirit of the rescuer of the wounded and dying Dr. Norman Bethune. Huang also said the Guangdong Province has made stopping SARS its top priority. He thanked the WHO team that had come to Guangdong to survey the situation for their great support and assistance.

Dr. Robert Frederic Bromia, the leader of the WHO expert group thanked Huang Huahua for the meeting and for the fine support the WHO enjoyed during its trip to Guangdong. Bromia said that the Guangdong experts have done great work in treating people with SARS and in preventing the further spread of the epidemic and their achievements are of great help to WHO. Bromia said that SARS is already a global problem and it isn’t really important where it came from. What is important is finding the cause of SARS and finding ways to prevent it. Bromia said that the results of the WHO survey and data collected would be reported to WHO headquarters and hoped that the designation of Guangdong Province as an epidemic area would be able to be removed soon. After the meeting, Governor Huang invited the WHO experts for a night cruise on the Pearl River.

I hope they enjoyed their cruise. The epidemic may well be in decline. The crime, however, is the way the government at all levels (local, provincial, central) supressed information and stymied investigation all along the way. And everyone knows it.

The same writer provided me a summary of another article in Chinese (date unclear), and here’s a generous chunk:

All Too Typical: A Review of China’s Handling of Atypical Pnumonia (SARS)

In response to the SARS epidemic, the World Health Organization for the first time in decades released a travel advisory to all the travellers of the world suggesting that they avoid travel to Guangdong Province China and to Hong Kong. Deaths occurred in Beijing, so SARS finally got the attention of China’s leaders and surfaced as an issue. Now people can start to form an understanding of this matter, but the more that is made public the more fearful one becomes.

Speaking about fear, when SARS erupted in Guangdong rumors flew everywhere but the government did not bother to investigate. The media reported it for one day and then shut up. People heard that vinegar could prevent the illness so everyone wanted to buy vinegar. As the news spread, the wild purchases of vinegar spread across the whole country, even reaching Xinjiang. A reporter from China Youth Daily in February even wrote about the panic to buy vinegar and other folk remedies as a character flaw of the Chinese people that they would just run wild on the basis of rumors. When reporters from Southern TV news went to a hospital in Guangzhou Municipality, they demanded that the doctors and nurses threw upon the doors of the quarantine area for the reporters and let them take photographs in order to show just how “safe” SARS is.

Seems like some journalists have indeed evolved faster than the rest of us — no brain, no conscience and nearly completely inhumane.

Once SARS erupted in February, no paper barrier could contain the flames! At a live broadcast of a press conference held on February 11 to announce that the SARS epidemic was under control and there was no need to worry, a Yangcheng Evening News reporter asked Director Huang of the Guangzhou Municipality Health Department if this pnumonia could have been passed to people from domestic livestock. Huang replied “You will be held accountable for these words of yours!!” This is a classic response. Huang could have answered “yes” or “no” or “don’t know”. What does he mean saying “you will be held accountable!!” to a journalist who
was merely asking a question on behalf of the people?
This kind of response is very confusing to the Guangzhou resident who watched this meeting on television. At the press conference, Huang announced that the number of infected people was 290 of whom five had died. On February 13, Nanfang Daily reported that as of February 12, the number of people who had been cured of SARS and left the hospital had increased to 93.

From February 11 to the end of March, all the Chinese web sites and forums deleted any reference to SARS. Sometimes phone calls were to websites demanding that an article mentioning SARS be deleted. There were also no reports in the Chinese newspapers, magazines or televsion. From February 11 onwards, we didn’t seen any more figures although we heard of friends or friends or colleagues of friends going into the hospital for SARS.

Finally professors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that since we don’t know the cause of SARS, there is no effective medicine. Medicine can help somewhat, but people basically survive or die of SARS on their own.

When SARS erupted in Hong Kong, Hong Kong people knew next to nothing about it. Within two weeks, several hundred people had been infected and several dozen people had died. The Hong Kong media reported on SARS every day including the number of people infected. The government made reports every few days and then began giving a daily press conference. Then the Hong Kong government immediately released new reports on SARS. The Hong Kong government closed the schools and disinfected public places. This kind of action made the terrified people of Guangdong Province very, very envious! We don’t know anything at all!

Finally Guangdong Province reported the SARS numbers for February. As of February 28, the number of SARS cases increased to 792, an increase of 250% while 31 people had died, an increase of six times. Is this what the meant when they said “the epidemic is basically under control?”

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