The dismissal of China's former health minister and Beijing's mayor for concealing the spread of SARS filled outside observers with expectations of Chinese policy transparency and openness. Leaders such as President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) have stressed that there is no way they will allow officials at any level to conceal the extent of the epidemic. But are the daily reports by Chinese officials really offering a true view of the actual situation? No.
The first person to expose the cover-up, thus setting off the SARS scare, was Jiang Yanyong (江延永), a physician at the 309th Army Hospital in Beijing. Now, revelations from the public continue to punch holes in the government's cover-up. The one stepping forward this time was Wang Yongchen (汪永晨), a journalist at China Radio.
Wang gained fame in China by focusing on ecological and environmental issues and is the founder of the private environmental group, Green Earth Volunteers. On May 5, Wang used the Internet to publish an "e-mail to a friend," which has now been widely distributed
Wang's e-mail pointed out that SARS had broken out in the dormitory of a publishing house in Beijing's Chaoyang district and had already resulted in one death, one person hospitalized and four people running fevers. Despite this, the people living there were still free to come and go, and the hospital persisted in sending those with a fever back home. More than 10 coworkers who were in contact with the deceased were still working.
Wang called the police several times to report the situation without getting any kind of response, so he had no choice but to use the Internet to alert his friends. His report shows that the authorities are still concealing the extent of the epidemic. A journalist friend of Wang's says that the situation is much worse than the government has admitted.
It has been long known that the Chinese government has been concealing the situation -- any-one would have cause to doubt the reported figure of six cases in Shanghai, given the city's huge, densely packed and mobile population. The World Health Organization believes that Shanghai is concealing the actual situation, but has as of yet been unable to find evidence of this. If Shanghai, which has always enjoyed a reputation for relative openness, is behaving like this, it is only too easy to imagine what the situation is like in areas and provinces further away from Beijing.
The question of how many SARS patients there are in China and how many people have succumbed to the disease may, in fact, never be known.
There must be economic considerations behind this cover-up. SARS has dealt a severe blow to the Chinese economy and it is this that is the lethal threat in the eyes of the government. Shanghai is normally a showcase for China's rapid economic development, and the country will suffer if Shanghai is crippled by SARS. This is probably the real reason why Shanghai has reported only six cases.
China's continued cover-up of the SARS situation is also a reflection of the political friction encountered by Hu and Wen. Throughout the fight against SARS, we seem to have seen only Hu and Wen, with the addition of the work of someone called Wu Yi (