April 25, 2003
1 Million People Have Fled Beijing Out Of SARS Fears

Growing fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS - also called atypical pneumonia in the Chinese media) has caused 1 million people to flee Beijing for other parts of China.

There was a continued exodus from Beijing today as thousands of people attempted to flee the epidemic and return to their home towns all over China. At the Beijing airport, travelers wearing face masks boarded planes out of the city. Local journalists estimated that almost 1 million people, about 10 percent of the population, had already left the capital.

This is an astounding figure. When is the last time that so many people took such drastic action in such a short period of time in response to a natural biological threat? Imagine how people would respond today to an even bigger infection threat. SARS does not spread as easily as influenza. Some day a new influenza strain that is more lethal than the typical influenza strains will arise. It could cause panic around the world.

The rush to flee Beijing has been fueled by the fear that the government would declare martial law and close off the city from the rest of China. The government has had to announce that it would not impose martial law but it is unlikely that the Beijing public believes it.

This is guaranteed to spread SARS further and faster. Infected people riding on airplanes, trains, and buses will pass the disease along to other passengers. They will also pass it on to people they have contact with at their destinations.

The treatment of those suspected of being exposed to SARS in Beijing is considered to be so harsh that people may be hiding their SARS symptoms from the authorities.

Sars suspects are being victimised in Beijing, where thousands have now been put in compulsory quarantine, a World Health Organisation specialist, Dr Wolfgang Preiser, said yesterday.

"If you make it hell for them, they go into hiding," Dr Preiser, a German virologist, told reporters in Shanghai.

While some might cheer the prospects of the Chinese government coming under intense criticism from its own population for the government's handling of SARS keep in mind that a revolution in China would by itself kill millions and that the chaos of a revolution would cause SARS to spread even faster.

People are stockpiling food.

Supermarkets reported a roaring trade in staples such as rice and cooking oil as rumors swirled the city would be isolated, while many other shops simply closed up as scared residents stayed at home.

At least this is a rational response. To reduce the risk of exposure in a high infection area it makes sense to buy a lot of food at a time and shop less often. It also makes sense to shop during the off-hours to reduce the number of people one is exposed to. If there was a big outbreak it would make sense to have open air markets so that the air would be dispersed quickly.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 April 25 08:45 PM  Dangers Natural Bio

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