Monday, 5 May 2008

"Should I start worrying now?":

A question I never asked myself during the 2003 SARS crisis until I rolled home from a going away party to find a notice on the door of the Nanjing hotel I was staying telling me (and everyone else in the building) that we had to be out by 10:00am the next day as the hotel was going to be used as a quarantine centre. Up until a few days before this the Chinese government had been trying to prevent a public panic, then first came the news that the May holidays had been cancelled, and then the special checks on travellers and the news that universities were being put under quarantine - but I hadn't taken any of it seriously until seeing the sign on the hotel door.

Now comes today's news that more than 9,700 people have caught hand, foot and mouth disease, an intestinal infection (and thus presumably not airbourne). It appeared at first to be localised - with all the cases appearing in Fuyang in Anhui province, but has now spread to all neighbouring provinces, as well as Guangdong and Beijing. Given the current atmosphere, and the way that rumours spread quickly during the SARS crisis of the disease being a form of biological warfare initiated by the CIA, it seems likely that the foreign population in China will come under further suspicion.

At what point should foreigners start getting worried? So long as you eat in restaurants where a good standard of hygiene is maintained - not yet, but it would be a good idea to keep a weather-eye on the news.


Anonymous said...

I remember being in Shanghai during SARS--oh so much fun... then again, it turned out to be quite safe compared to all the other major cities around China oddly enough.

Heh, the hilarity was seeing so many foreigners fleeing, but still going to the bars and Western areas a few days before leaving to enjoy there last days in China...

Gilman Grundy said...

Of course, the whole thing did just blow over, but I have to confess to being one of those that skedaddled at that time (being thrown out of the place I was living had that effect. I set out to go and work with a friend of mine in Taiwan, only to find that on the same day I had decided to go, the Taiwan government had cancelled all visas for those coming from the mainland. I then thought it quite logical to try to get to a third country an to try to fly to Taiwan from there. Picking the closest one on the map I flew to the Phillipines, only to discover that on the day I arrived the Taiwan government had decided to cancel visas for those coming from the Phillipines. Happy days!

Unknown said...

Wow... that sounds painful (the country hopping during SARS)

Headed down to Guangdong in just a couple of weeks... will it be safe?

Gilman Grundy said...

@Jeremy - There's three different answers to that:

The Chinese Student One:

Of course it will be! Didn't you here the Chinese government say they have it under control? Do not to criticise China!

The Paranoid Expat One:

Head for the hills - Women and ESL teachers first!

The Real One

It'll probably be quite safe, just make sure you get your food somewhere it's either a) Cooked thoroughly in front of you (yangrouchuan is actually not bad for this) or b) likely to be safe - fast-food chains and decent restaurants are usually good - a good rule of thumb is, if the restaurant is full of customers, then it's usually safe.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I had no point in going back as there were rumors of SARS going into California (later to be false) so I figured what was the point? Might as well stay, head into the suburbs, and wait it out a little longer.

It was hilarious how my buddy and I started to act like the Chinese when they say other foreigners, shouting: "老外!"

Anonymous said...

I always find it amusing when people talk about how safe Shanghai was during SARS.

I know from two independant sources (one in the police / government, another in the medical profession / military), that there were well over a hundred casualties in Shanghai alone. Many military hospitals were overflowing with cases, and at least one apartment complex had it's residents evicted on a Friday, only to be reopened Monday as an emergency ward for people who had the disease.

Of couse, the official line was that not a single case was reported in the whole of Shanghai.

Anyway, you were talking about one of the other four artificially engineered diseases that is currently running amok throughout the length and bredth of this land, were you not?