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Ten years after SARS, what has China learned?

By Wang Aihua (Xinhua)

21:06, April 03, 2013

BEIJING, April 3 (Xinhua) -- The news of two men dying from a new variant of bird flu has reminded Chinese of the SARS pandemic that hit the country one decade ago. Many are wondering if the government will handle the situation any better than it did in 2003, should another pandemic break out.

For many Chinese, the spring of 2003 was marked by the appearance of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which took the lives of several hundred people on the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Now, on the 10th anniversary of the pandemic, fear is spreading following reports of two Shanghai men who died from H7N9 avian influenza, a strain that has not previously been detected in humans.

That fear was aggravated this week after four more patients in neighboring Jiangsu Province were confirmed to have contracted the virus. All four are in critical condition.

But it is not necessarily the diseases themselves that have stoked fear, but also the way the government has handled them. The way information is made public, the way public health is monitored and the ways in which people observe sanitary guidelines are all under scrutiny.

As dangerous and new as SARS was, it was the government and people who made the disease more serious. The government, in particular, was criticized for failing to alert the public in a timely fashion. People in south China, where the disease originated, were blamed for eating rare animals that were found to be carrying the disease.

It may be an exaggeration to compare the H7N9 bird flu to SARS, as the former has yet to show signs of human-to-human transmission. But with a possible public health crisis looming, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Health authorities have demonstrated some positive signs regarding their ability to deal with the disease. Public health departments across the country have announced that they will monitor the disease closely.

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