The New Bird Flu In China Is Creating A SARS-Like Scare

Sunday, April 14, 2013
By Paul Martin
Apr. 14, 2013

A deadly outbreak of bird flu is testing China’s political leaders, as well as its response to health emergencies

“WE REALLY only have sporadic cases of a rare disease, and perhaps it will remain that way.” The soothing words of the World Health Organisation’s representative in Beijing, Michael O’Leary, on April 8th are still the prevailing view of H7N9, a new bird-flu virus that has killed at least nine people in China since March.

But even if it does not develop into a pandemic, the outbreak is putting China’s new leaders under the spotlight. The coincidence of H7N9’s emergence with the tenth anniversary of a China-centred epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has not been lost on Chinese commentators. Legal Weekly, a Beijing newspaper, noted: “As more details of H7N9 flu cases are revealed, the shadow of SARS a decade ago is again spreading over the hearts of our countrymen.”

The government’s initial cover-up of SARS facilitated its rapid spread. By the time it faded away later in 2003, the virus had killed more than 770 people, over 80% of them in China (including Hong Kong). It also caused great disruption to business, preventing many from travelling to and within China.

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