China promises SARS alert during Lunar New Year
China said on Thursday it had ratcheted its anti-SARS surveillance and monitoring systems "into full gear" during the Lunar New Year, a time when hundreds of millions of people — and any illnesses they're carrying — are crisscrossing the country.
Efforts include isolating trains, planes and buses entering Beijing from the southern province of Guangdong, where this season's three cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome have been reported, and checking passengers as they disembark. Increased temperature examinations nationwide are also planned.
The stepped-up monitoring efforts were outlined by the official Xinhua news agency and other state-controlled media on Thursday, the first day of the Year of the Monkey.
"Surveillance and monitoring systems... have gone into full gear," Xinhua said.
China, where 349 of the world's 774 SARS deaths were recorded during last year's outbreak, is eager to prevent a recurrence of a situation that started around the time of the last Lunar New Year and grew into a medical emergency and economic catastrophe.
The government is worried that the colossal numbers of travellers — the biggest movement of humanity in the modern world — could spread SARS across the country and beyond its borders in a situation similar to last year.
What's more, the aggressive and highly publicized anti-SARS efforts represent a push by the government to show both its people and the world that it is dealing with the problem aggressively and openly — counter to strong criticism it received for its initial sluggish response last year.
"Local medical institutions, police and quarantine departments are also mobilized to safeguard a SARS-free Spring Festival," Xinhua said.
All 600 civet cats in Beijing, the capital, had tested negative for the virus that causes SARS, the government said. In Guangdong, thousands of civets were slaughtered earlier this month on the belief they were responsible for transferring the disease to humans. That has not been proven definitively.
Authorities in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China, which also was hit by SARS last year, said they would not make the same mistake they did last year — waiting too long to isolate patients, said Zhang Lianzhong, head of the Inner Mongolia Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. He was quoted by Xinhua.
Shanghai's government said more than 1,800 epidemiologists and 113 medical emergency teams would be available during the holidays in case any sign of SARS appears, according to the Shanghai Centre of Disease Control and Prevention.
Xinhua quoted a survey of 2,815 households in nine major Chinese cities — including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu — saying 40 percent of families asked were not afraid of SARS returning. No margin of error was given.
The last of the three SARS patients reported so far this season was pronounced recovered like the other two and released from the hospital on Wednesday. All were from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, where what would become SARS first appeared in November 2002.