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Photo of the Week: Beijing is criticized for covering up the pneumonia-like outbreak
AFAR
3/18/2003



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WHO has issued an urgent alert for a newly discovered illness suspected to have come from southern China, as it is being quickly spread worldwide. Medical experts from over ten countries are involved in researching the origin of this new virus.

Symptoms include a fever of more than 38 C (100.4 degrees F), coughing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. So far, at least 167 persons have been identified to have this SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Nine are known to have died of it. In Hong Kong alone, at least 123 persons have checked into hospitals for treatment of this illness.

Experts believe that this illness came originally from Guangdong province of China, where this outbreak took place as early as January when over 300 persons reportedly were inflicted and 5 people died. Because of censorship from Beijing, this news of a pneumonia outbreak was silenced by the authorities in Guangdong province. Due to consideration of Spring Festival in February and the 10th Peopleís Congress in March, the authorities in Beijing believe that revealing this new virus outbreak might undermine the stability of society where tens of millions in the workforce are facing unemployment and salary cuts.

Many civilian groups inside China are complaining about this monopoly of media by the central government, as critical public health issues, among other important social concerns, might be overlooked for political reasons. Long Yan, a long-time China watcher, believes that the Beijing government is used to censor news and information at the expense of the publicís interests, even in the area of public health.

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