We’ve all heard the stories about the strict quarantines imposed by the Chinese government on travelers arriving on planes to China. Spacesuit wearing “inspectors” check passengers for temperatures. Even people who sat a few rows away from someone with a slight temperature are whisked away in special ambulances, sirens blaring, to special security hospitals where they are held by force until deemed to safe to release.
These dramatic steps are usually explained as a reaction to SARS when the Chinese government was slow to respond to the crisis. But is that what is really going on?
As I pointed out in a previous blog (Spread and Incidence of Pandemic Flu), the reported incidence of the new H1N1 is much higher in Hong Kong than mainland China. Given that large numbers of people travel between Hong Kong and the mainland freely every day, how credible is this disparity?
If keeping the new H1N1 virus out of China is not the true motive for all the drama at the airports, then what is? Dr. Jonathan Metzl, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, recently went through the whole drama of being incarcerated due to a presumed contact with someone with the flu. He described his experience a couple of weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times. However, he adds some information that we don’t get from most of these stories:
China’s quarantine policy also has an unpleasant whiff of xenophobia. Chinese passengers were allowed to stay in their homes during the quarantine period instead of being confined to the high-security quarters the rest of us shared. The set-up promoted the narrative that H1N1 was being spread by “foreigners.”
I think Dr. Metzl has put his finger on the real reason for the histrionics at the airports: blame the foreign devils for the virus.
But why is this necessary? Xinhua could simply reprint any number of Western media sources all of which repeat the dogma that the virus originated in North America and has transmitted to the rest of the world via air travel. Somehow, that’s not enough. The US State Department has warned US citizens of dire consequences should they travel to China. Business and tourism has likely suffered as a result. Yet the Chinese government persists in its costly charade. They really, really want the Chinese public to blame foreigners for this disease.
We have been told by the WHO, which is run by the Chinese government’s hand-picked puppet, Margaret Chan, that this is a mild disease. If the Chinese government believed this, why would they take such strong steps to associate the virus with foreigners?
Maybe they know something we don’t.
[edited to add the following numbers:
Infections per 100,000 in Hong Kong: 68
Reported infections per 100,000 in Mainland China: 0.2.]