Beijing's bird flu blinders

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Just days after pledging 'complete openness' in the fight against bird flu, Communist officials in Beijing have reportedly ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and any animal or human deaths.

At last count eight confirmed cases of the H5N1 virus have already hit the countryside of the Middle Kingdom, where millions of farmers struggle to eke out a living raising various types of poultry often in harsh conditions. 

The Chinese have already had to rely on experts from the World Health Organization to determine whether or not the death of a 12—year old in girl in Hunan Province was in fact from the deadly virus. 

Beijing seems to be playing a dangerous game, promising transparency to the international community while, in fact, clamping down on uncontrolled reports about the virus at home. 

According to the South China Morning Post (in Hong Kong), the new directive is apparently aimed at silencing mainland newspapers.  At the center of the controversy is Qi Xiaoqiu, the country's disease control director.

While publicly claiming Beijing had learned lessons from the SARS crisis that hit many Asian countries less than two years ago, Mr. Qi is only setting the stage for more rumors and misinformation to spread across the country, and putting the international community at greater risk.

On November 2nd, the Post reported:

"From Sars, we can see that no information can be hidden," Mr. Qi said on Monday while visiting the United States. "We have policies to encourage farmers to report possible outbreaks."

Apart from the reporting of outbreaks and any deaths they cause, news about an exercise to prepare for the closure of ports in the event of human—to—human transmission of H5N1 has also been kept under wraps. Authorities were wary that news of the drill could spark speculation that human cases had been reported, according to government sources.

Despite Mr. Qi's claims, it seems the authorities in Beijing have not learned the importance of transparency in the face of a looming health crisis.  After the government was heavily criticized for initially covering up the spread of SARS, it promised to change. It seems the Chinese government is still more concerned about sparking speculation than protecting peoples lives.

Brian Schwarz   11 13 05

Just days after pledging 'complete openness' in the fight against bird flu, Communist officials in Beijing have reportedly ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and any animal or human deaths.

At last count eight confirmed cases of the H5N1 virus have already hit the countryside of the Middle Kingdom, where millions of farmers struggle to eke out a living raising various types of poultry often in harsh conditions. 

The Chinese have already had to rely on experts from the World Health Organization to determine whether or not the death of a 12—year old in girl in Hunan Province was in fact from the deadly virus. 

Beijing seems to be playing a dangerous game, promising transparency to the international community while, in fact, clamping down on uncontrolled reports about the virus at home. 

According to the South China Morning Post (in Hong Kong), the new directive is apparently aimed at silencing mainland newspapers.  At the center of the controversy is Qi Xiaoqiu, the country's disease control director.

While publicly claiming Beijing had learned lessons from the SARS crisis that hit many Asian countries less than two years ago, Mr. Qi is only setting the stage for more rumors and misinformation to spread across the country, and putting the international community at greater risk.

On November 2nd, the Post reported:

"From Sars, we can see that no information can be hidden," Mr. Qi said on Monday while visiting the United States. "We have policies to encourage farmers to report possible outbreaks."

Apart from the reporting of outbreaks and any deaths they cause, news about an exercise to prepare for the closure of ports in the event of human—to—human transmission of H5N1 has also been kept under wraps. Authorities were wary that news of the drill could spark speculation that human cases had been reported, according to government sources.

Despite Mr. Qi's claims, it seems the authorities in Beijing have not learned the importance of transparency in the face of a looming health crisis.  After the government was heavily criticized for initially covering up the spread of SARS, it promised to change. It seems the Chinese government is still more concerned about sparking speculation than protecting peoples lives.

Brian Schwarz   11 13 05