China should have responded to SARS more forcefully

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2003

One of the few things that authoritarian societies, such as China, ought to be able to do better than democratic ones apart from making the trains run on time is to control the spread of infectious diseases.

Experience in telling people what to do, where to go, and whom to mix with should come in highly useful. Alas, as the threat posed to the world by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) continues to gather force, something like the opposite truth is beginning to dawn. It now appears that China was disgracefully negligent in its response to the initial outbreak and spread of SARS, and was able to get away with it precisely because it lacks the checks and balances of an open society.

First observed five months ago in southern China, the deadly form of atypical pneumonia has now shown up in 16 countries, with Australia reporting its first case last week. It has infected more than 2000 people, killing at least 80 including, tragically, the doctor who first identified SARS, Carlo Urbani. Quarantine restrictions have been put in place in Singapore and Hong Kong, and authorities in many other countries have ramped up travel restrictions and advisories the last thing that the airline and tourism industries needed, with the traveling public already understandably wobbly in the face of international terrorism and the war in Iraq. ...

The correct response to that threat is international co-operation.

The Australian (Sydney)- April 2

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