2003 April 16 Wednesday
China Being Caught In Big SARS Cover-Up

Five months after the first severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) case the Chinese government is still not being honest about the incidence of SARS in China.

"We have very clearly said you have an international community over here that does not trust your figures," said Henk Bekedam, head of the office of the World Health Organization in Beijing.

The WHO officials are not holding back their opinions.

"Indeed there have been cases of SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] -- there is no question about that -- that have also not been reported officially," German WHO virologist Wolfgang Preiser said after a visit to a military hospital in Beijing.

The World Health Organization thinks there are between 100 and 200 SARS cases in Beijing.

"I would guess the range would be between 100 and 200 probable cases in Beijing," Alan Schnur, a WHO infectious disease expert, told reporters after a WHO team was allowed access to two military hospitals.

By contrast, the Chinese government continues to paint a more rosy picture.

Mainland authorities have so far revealed 40 cases in Beijing, with four deaths, and have repeatedly insisted these were the correct figures. Last week, Deputy Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sars cases in PLA hospitals were included in updates.

The WHO position is vindication for retired Chinese military surgeon and whistleblower Dr. Jiang Yanyong.

That disclosure, which emerged from the team's visits yesterday to two leading military hospitals, seemed to vindicate Dr. Jiang Yanyong, 71, a military surgeon who in an unusual protest letter said officials were not counting at least 60 patients in military hospitals.

Will they eventually own up to the larger number of cases? If so, how will they do so? Will they admit that officials were covering up? Or will they just say that they had a faulty reporting system or inadequate communication or some similar nonsense? Or will they just continue to lie about the extent of SARS in China?

The economic fall-out of the Chinese government's handling of this disease has the immediate effect of reducing the amount of business done as people cancel vacations, business trips, meetings, transferral of personnel to staff offices in infected areas, and because of the general increase in uncertainty. But there is a longer term impact that may be even more important for China. Investors will be more reluctant to invest in China in the future because the SARS crisis highlights the risks of investing in a society whose government is so willing to try to hide bad news. Hiding problems can make the problems much worse. Yet even as SARS continues to become a bigger problem the Chinese government continues to cover up the extent of it. They do not just make mistakes. They also refuse to learn the lessons from those mistakes that business decision makers would expect them to learn. Therefore international business confidence in the future of China is going to be lower than otherwise would have been the case.

The New York Times has now reached a similar editorial conclusion about China's political handling of SARS and the problem of closed system dictatorships that ParaPundit reached over a week ago.

You can read more about SARS from a more biological and public health perspective in my FuturePundit Natural Dangers Archive. For economic impacts see the ParaPundit Political Economics Archive. For what the response to SARS says about open versus closed societies see the ParaPundit Open Versus Closed Societies Archive.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 16 11:37 PM  Culture Open Versus Closed Societies

razib said at April 17, 2003 11:35 AM:

SARS is a sympton of china's overall disease of lack of transparency. prepare to dump stock in china inc. in a few years....

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