China's secrecy on bird flu

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China is not comfortable with the concept of the free flow of information. Criticism of the regime is anathema, indicating a realization that its hold on power is not to be taken for granted. But information freedom is an important component of a modern economy, and without adequate information even the state itself can be handicapped in its effectiveness.

The New York Times reports that China's response to the looming bird flu threat is being hampered by secrecy.

The Chinese health authorities in Beijing have called repeatedly for vigilance against the disease. But they have refused to share virus samples from infected wild birds this year with international organizations and have quarreled with researchers who have suggested that the disease remains a problem....

Michael Leavitt, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, who is finishing a weeklong tour of Southeast Asia and assessing the threat of bird flu, said in a telephone interview from Vietnam that no country could defeat the disease by itself.

"Think of the world as a vast forest that's dry and susceptible to fire," he said, while declining to address the details of China's handling of the disease. "Every forest fire starts with a spark."  [....]

A lingering concern is whether local and provincial officials in China, fearful of censure, are hiding cases from the central government. This occurred early in the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in late 2002 and again during a flare—up last summer of a pig disease in central China.

This resembles China's ill—fated response to SARS, when secrecy impeded an adequate response. Bad news for everyone.

Hat tip: Brian Schwarz

Thomas Lifson  10 18 05

China is not comfortable with the concept of the free flow of information. Criticism of the regime is anathema, indicating a realization that its hold on power is not to be taken for granted. But information freedom is an important component of a modern economy, and without adequate information even the state itself can be handicapped in its effectiveness.

The New York Times reports that China's response to the looming bird flu threat is being hampered by secrecy.

The Chinese health authorities in Beijing have called repeatedly for vigilance against the disease. But they have refused to share virus samples from infected wild birds this year with international organizations and have quarreled with researchers who have suggested that the disease remains a problem....

Michael Leavitt, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, who is finishing a weeklong tour of Southeast Asia and assessing the threat of bird flu, said in a telephone interview from Vietnam that no country could defeat the disease by itself.

"Think of the world as a vast forest that's dry and susceptible to fire," he said, while declining to address the details of China's handling of the disease. "Every forest fire starts with a spark."  [....]

A lingering concern is whether local and provincial officials in China, fearful of censure, are hiding cases from the central government. This occurred early in the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in late 2002 and again during a flare—up last summer of a pig disease in central China.

This resembles China's ill—fated response to SARS, when secrecy impeded an adequate response. Bad news for everyone.

Hat tip: Brian Schwarz

Thomas Lifson  10 18 05