SARS fears mount among Beijing medical community

Due to my recent injury, I have to go to the clinic every day for physical therapy. The first few times I went, late last week, it was business as usual at the modern, Western-style facility. Then, as of Tuesday, they started the policy of mandatory surgical masks, which they hand to you as you walk in (first you have to wash your hands with some antibacterial lotion). Does this indicate there is less fear or more fear?

My doctor there is an urbane Chinese woman who has lived much of her life abroad, and for the first few days of my visits she was telling me how she felt the reaction to SARS was overblown and that the problem was being controlled. When I told her on Wednesday about the alarming news of a government cover-up in Beijing she expressed deep skepticism.

By yesterday afternoon, this skepticism had turned to fear. One of the clinic’s star doctors, an American, decided to take immediate leave and departed from Beijing back to America with his wife and kids, she told me, because he fears no Beijing hospital can be fully safe. She told me that she heard from a colleague of hers at a nearby hospital that their staff is quite concerned about a new SARS case there — it is not one of the hospitals specifically designated to deal with SARS, and she is afraid they may not be able to prevent spread.

While I cannot say for a fact that these two bits of anecdotal evidence are true, I do know my doctor is a mature person, quite well known in the city, and I could see something really turned her around.

At the moment, my logic tells me Beijing is generally safe, but I would not want to be hanging around the city’s hospitals, nor would I want to sit in a big group communally eating out of a single big bowl, which is quite the norm here. It’s definitely a time to be careful, and to ignore just about everything the central government has to say about the subject.

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