China has detained at least 12 people for spreading false rumors about the H7N9 bird flu, government statements showed yesterday, as authorities sought to control “panic” with cases mounting.
China announced on March 31 that the H7N9 avian influenza had been found in humans for the first time. The number of people confirmed to have been infected rose to 31 yesterday, with nine deaths.
Police in China’s southwest city of Guiyang detained three people for claiming H7N9 had been found in a poultry market, a police statement released yesterday said.
“This caused panic among netizens and citizens,” it said.
The two who posted the original rumor were each being detained for five days, but one who spread it more widely over the Internet would be held for 10 days, the statement said.
The H7N9 outbreak has so far been confined to China’s developed eastern region, including commercial hub Shanghai, where five people have died.
Police have also detained three people in Zhejiang Province, two in Jiangsu and two in Anhui for spreading “false information” about bird flu, according to separate statements compiled by Agence France-Presse.
The southeastern province of Fujian and Shaanxi in the north, which have yet to confirm human cases, have each detained one person for similar offenses, police statements said.
The WHO has praised China for its transparency toward the H7N9 outbreak, but a Chinese newspaper yesterday raised questions on the delay of more than three weeks between the first victim’s death and the announcement by the central government, claiming testing by Shanghai confirmed H7N9 a week after his demise.
“Would not infections and deaths be less [from an earlier announcement]?” the Southern Metropolis Daily said, linking the delay to the annual session of China’s legislature.
“During that time ... local governments could not afford to make mistakes,” the newspaper said.
Chinese officials say time was needed to confirm the virus in people for the first time.
A decade ago, China also faced accusations it covered up the outbreak of SARS, which killed about 800 people globally.
In related news, the China Securities Journal reported yesterday that a vaccine for H7N9 has been authorized by China’s Food and Drug Administration and is expected to be introduced to the market in the first half of this year.
The exact source of infection remains unknown, although samples had tested positive in some birds in poultry markets that remain the focus of investigations by China and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
NO NEED TO PANIC
The WHO said on Tuesday that it was looking into two suspected “family clusters” of people in China who may be infected with the H7N9 virus, potentially the first evidence of human-to-human spread.
However, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told a news briefing in Geneva that so far there is no firm evidence of human-to-human transmission occurring which could spark a pandemic.