A serious incident involving a battalion of 300 Chinese soldiers being quarantined for contracting a deadly SARS like disease has given rise to a lot of panic – as rumors of the contagion has made people to overreact.
Rumors are spreading in China that there is an outbreak of a SARS-like virus in Hebei Province. In Baoding City, a group of several hundred soldiers has been isolated at a hospital in with symptoms similar to those experienced by patients during the 2003 outbreak. Authorities, however, are playing down the incident.
Could another outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS be on the way in China? Rumors are spreading that a similar illness to the 2003 epidemic has infected a group of soldiers in Hebei Province.
Reporters from Hong Kong’s Apple Daily went to Hebei’s Baoding City to investigate the alleged epidemic. They found the eastern side of Baoding City’s No. 252 military hospital sealed off by armed guards wearing surgical masks. Hospital workers disclosed to the reporters that there were 300 soldiers receiving treatment in isolation inside.
Despite the apparent seriousness of the situation, local residents around the hospital have not been informed. Schools and businesses are carrying on as normal, no official announcements have been made.
[Local Resident, Living Near 252 Hospital]:
“How come we haven’t even heard a little about this over here? We are right next to No. 252 hospital and have the feeling that everything is normal.”
Netizens discussing the incident online have complained about the authorities’ lack of disclosure. One writes:
“What has happened, why doesn’t the health department make a public announcement? If it isn’t SARS, what is it? Is this not playing a joke with ordinary people’s lives?”
But the local government in Baoding is insisting the illness isn’t serious and claim that many online comments on the issue are false.
[Baoding City Hall Office]:
“It is just a common cold, it isn’t SARS. We are currently strengthening our efforts and deleting some false reports from the Internet.”
This denial bears similarities to the authorities’ cover up of SARS in 2003. At that time, NTD broke the news of the epidemic three weeks before China’s state-run media. The 2003 epidemic spread from Hong Kong and infected individuals in 37 countries with 8,422 cases and 916 deaths worldwide.