Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

SARS is not China's only sickness

By the Liberty Times editorial

It has been determined that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which poses a grave international health risk, originated in China. Only days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared that China was the center of this global epidemic. Moreover, all major media organizations worldwide uniformly criticized China for concealing the outbreak of the epidemic. At the same time, the government has begun to actively take measures to control the illness here in Taiwan. But as a result of political conservatism, the relevant government agencies hesitated in taking the necessary measures, leaving the general public vulnerable. The government's decision respecting the "small three links" between Kinmen and China was a classical example of this conservatism.

The "small three links" were a naive and unilateral measure taken by the government. After the implementation of the links, China responded with passive resistance. As a result, the "links" are in fact a one-way connection, which skew the country further toward China. Due to the convenience of the links, the residents of off-shore islands, including Kinmen and Matsu, began to acquire real estate in, travel to, and spend money on a large scale in Xiamen and Fuzhou. However, there has been no reciprocation by the Chinese. In fact, the problems of smuggling and stowaways have gotten worse. Cheap Chinese agricultural products have begun to permeate the market in Taiwan illegally, not only causing great devastation to farming but also endangering public health and wreaking havoc on the local ecological system, as a result of the risks created by inadequate health and sanitary inspections. These "small direct" links bring more evil than good.

If the government has any sense left, it ought to shut down the "small three links" entirely, to ensure that SARS will not make its way into the country via Kinmen. However, afraid of enraging China, the government carried out half-measures, deciding only to shut down Matsu's direct links. As for Kinmen's direct links, the government decided instead to enhance health and sanitary inspections and to lower the volume of trade. These less-than-adequate decisions are truly disappointing.

To protect the health and lives of its people, a responsible government would have warned against or even banned travel to disease-stricken areas and tried everything within its power to prevent the outbreak of the illness within the nation's borders. In the civilized world, concern for human lives far outweighs any narrow-minded political considerations. Therefore, after the epidemic broke out, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immediately announced that government personnel should cancel trips to China, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong and called on personnel already in those countries to return to the US as soon as possible. Other countries, including Canada and France, advised their people against traveling to SARS-stricken areas. A great number of countries also strengthened health and sanitary inspections of people from diseased areas. So, when the government considered the issue of whether to shut down the small direct links, the only thing on its mind should have been the welfare of the 23 million people in Taiwan. So-called sensitive political considerations never should have been a factor in the governments decision.

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