first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The government reported two new outbreaks in poultry Thursday, the 12th and 13th since Oct. 19. A day earlier, the Health Ministry announced it had confirmed the first human cases of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu – a 24-year-old woman who died and a 9-year-old boy who recovered. It said the boy’s 12-year-old sister, who died, was a suspected case. During the early days of SARS, the government refused to release any details about the disease, feeding rumors and public fear. Its attitude began to change after the communist leadership was sharply criticized abroad. The government set up a disease-warning network and promised to be open and cooperative. In recent weeks, anti-bird-flu measures have been imposed on an almost unimaginable scale in a country with 1.3 billion people and 14 billion chickens, ducks and other poultry. Health officials have slaughtered millions of chickens. Live poultry sales are banned. China’s chief veterinary official says all poultry will be vaccinated. People are quarantined and monitored by the thousands. BEIJING – Health workers arrived 30 minutes after Qin Zhijun reported finding dead chickens. Within 11 hours, tests confirmed it was bird flu and his flock of 7,000 birds was destroyed. Then China’s normally slow, secretive government did something even more unusual. Instead of imposing an information blackout, it flew foreign reporters to the northern region of Inner Mongolia to meet Qin and see his farm. In contrast to its sluggish, widely criticized response to severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, China has reacted quickly to recent bird flu cases and released information with unprecedented swiftness. “I think the government realized what the problems with not being open can bring,” John Mackenzie, an Australian disease specialist who helped investigate SARS, said Thursday. “We swiftly enacted our emergency plan and took a series of preventive measures to put the epidemic under control within the shortest possible time,” said Li Bohong, the Communist Party representative in the district where Qin’s poultry farm is located. State media that took months to start reporting on SARS run daily coverage of anti-flu efforts. The official Xinhua News Agency sends urgent dispatches on each newly reported outbreak. The Agriculture Ministry has short videos on bird flu prevention on its Web site. “The Chinese government has taken a very responsible attitude,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “It is not necessary for us to cover up.” Despite such promises of openness, the government still tries to control information about outbreaks. Local officials often refuse to answer reporters’ questions. But from Chinese leaders to village officials, all proclaim their dedication to stopping the virulent H5N1 virus, which has infected at least 126 people in Asia, killing at least 64 of them, since 2003. Premier Wen Jiabao warned last week that China faces an “arduous task.” On Thursday, he urged officials not to be complacent. “In 2003, we triumphed over SARS,” Wen was quoted as saying on state television. “It shows that we will triumph over bird flu as well.” Some experts say that despite its promises, China still isn’t ready to deal with bird flu. The same attention that went into detecting human diseases after SARS wasn’t given to monitoring outbreaks in animals, said Linfa Wang of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. “They weren’t ready to lift animal health to the level of human health,” said Wang, a member of a World Health Organization team that searched southern China two years ago for animals carrying the SARS virus. “The infrastructure is not ready to handle a major disease outbreak,” he said. “The human area is way ahead of the animal health area.” A key problem was a typical lack of communication among China’s insular bureaucracies, Wang said. The health and agriculture ministries failed to cooperate on bird flu outbreaks until ordered by the senior Chinese leadership to do so this fall, the experts said. But Zhou Liyuan, a government spokesman in the northeastern province of Liaoning, which has suffered four outbreaks, told reporters this week that his marching orders are enough to defeat bird flu. “Cull all the poultry and leave not even a tail, destroy all threats and leave no hidden dangers, disinfect everything and leave no dark corners, vaccinate rigorously and leave out nothing,” Zhou said. Officials, he said, “do not fear hardship and do not fear fatigue as they steadfastly wage this battle.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more