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Author`s name Michael Simpson

Atypical Pneumonia and Politics

Week-long vacations in May and two officials fell victims to atypical pneumonia
The fishing port of the Russian city of Vladivostok accepts 4-5 vessels per day on average, half of them come from South-Eastern Asia. In theory, every day the population of Vladivostok runs the deadly risk. No instances of atypical pneumonia have been registered yet on the territory of the country. Sanitary inspectors are standing guards over the health of the population: they will be the first to endure the first attack in case if some sailor brings the cowardly and mysterious disease. The Russian ship Finsky Zaliv (the Gulf of Finland) came from Qingdao to the port of Vladivostok on Saturday. Doctor Vladimir Kiryakov inspected the arrived vessel. I expected that the doctor would put on a super protection suit and even make me wear it. On the contrary, he didn't even wear a special mask. The specialist explained that first of all, he had had a radio communication with the ship and found out there were no people with temperature or suffering from respiratory diseases on board the ship, Second, a gauze mask won't help if there is a diseased man at a distance of one meter from you, and doctors work in a close contact with people. As for sailors themselves, they believe gauze masks will save them from atypical pneumonia. They bought enough masks for the whole of the crew in an interim Korean port.

Now, only diseased people in Korea wear masks as they take care about other people. There is no panic in the country. As for China, there is also no panic: the common people don't even guess that a deadly virus appeared in the country. Chinese were bewildered to see the whole of the ship crew wearing masks. As the sailors from Finsky Zaliv say, within the four days of their stay in the Korean port they looked like clowns wearing masks and suffered lots of sneers, but nevertheless, they didn't take the masks off. They actually took care about their health. Is it right when someone says Russians are careless?

Russian sanitary inspectors now spend much more time on inspection of vessels arriving from countries of the Asia Pacific region. All members of ship crews are to undergo the inspection at the port of arrival, the temperature of every single man is to be taken. Doctor Vladimir Kiryakov examins every member of the crew, and the sailors patiently undergo the examination although they are at the same time eager to hug their families waiting ashore. Almost all sailors have normal temperature. The doctor decided that two men would have to undergo a more thorough examination. The doctor explains that the measure is just natural cautiousness. Probably, the two sailors have higher temperature because of anxiety before meeting with the families. If some people on board the ship are actually diseased, they are to be sent to an isolation hospital. 
 
The situation is more complicated with foreigners who attempt to conceal an unfavorable situation. Sometimes a crew member pretends asleep, and his crew fellows ask not to wake him. This trick is well-known to watchful Russian inspectors, they all the same wake the man up and take his temperature. If necessary, a ship can be put on a roadstead and its crew will be then be isolated. It is quite natural that such measures may entail economic problems as timely unloading of the ship is very important. However, in this situation health is more important that is why precaution measures are very important.

While the doctor was examining the 35 crew members of Finsky Zaliv, I talked to the sailors and relatives waiting for them ashore. Sailors are alarmed with information concerning atypical pneumonia, but wearing of gauze masks is so far the only precaution measure they have taken. At that, doctors recommend to take vitamins and traditionally used folk remedies such as onion and garlic which are believed to be wonderful protection against respiratory diseases and flu.  

It is not clear whether it makes sense to spend much money on fighting against the mysterious diseases when nobody knows the cause why it appeared and methods for fighting the disease are not invented yet. Families who came to meet the sailors feel more confidently; they hope that all measures have been taken to prevent the infection from spreading. The people hope that the situation is under control. A shipchandler who came up to the mooring ship just for several minutes says: "There is nothing to be afraid of. We have gone through perestroika, we'll also survive the pneumonia."

I had no time to wait until the examination of the ship crew is over. I just asked the doctor to inform me if the two guys with high temperature would be taken to an isolation hospital. In response, the doctor burst out laughing; he said that if the guys were diseased and to be taken to hospital, I would also have to go there for a thorough examination as I contacted the crew of the ship. Fortunately, I spent my next day in the office and wrote this publication.

Recently, China's Health Care Ministry shocked the country and the whole of the world with the atypical pneumonia statistics. The number of diseased people in the Chinese capital instantly increased from 37 to 339, five foreigners among them. Eighteen people died of atypical pneumonia in Beijing.

As for the whole of continental China, 1,800 people are taken ill with atypical pneumonia, 79 people died of the pneumonia there. Against the background of the dangerous situation with pneumonia in the country, the traditional one-week national holidays early in May and two Chinese governmental officials have fallen victims to the dangerous disease. The officials have to quit their posts. China's Deputy Health Care Minister Gao Qiang had to admit that Beijing authorities had committed several neglects in statistics and calculations. The Chinese government called upon local authorities and medical institutions for reporting about the epidemic situation "honestly, precisely and immediately." Everyone who conceals actual information about the epidemic situation in the country is to be seriously punished. Serious punishment will be imposed not on those who say the truth about the atypical pneumonia epidemic, but on those who conceal the actual situation.

The other day, organization conclusions have been drawn concerning the capability of Chinese authorities to put up a screen against the epidemic. Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong lost their party posts as soon as the information about the abrupt increase in the number of pneumonia-struck people was published. Zhang Wenkang lost his post of the secretary of the Health Ministry ruling party group. The mayor lost the position of the deputy chairman of the Beijing city committee. Successors to the posts have been already appointed. According to the Chinese political practice based upon the party principle of the governmental affairs management, both officials may soon lose their main administrative posts.

The scandal connected with epidemic information concealment has delivered an indirect blow against the reputation of new Chinese leader Hu Jintao. The matter is that Mang Xuenong was appointed mayor of Beijing in January, allegedly, under direct patronage of the new secretary general. Both men used to work together in the Chinese Komsomol system.

However, the problem was caused not by negligence of the two officials, but the whole system of the Chinese Health Ministry broke down. As Deputy Health Minister Gao Qiang admitted, Beijing hospitals didn't establish effective contacts with each other for information exchange. At that, the whole of the Ministry wasn't ready for emergency situations, as it lacked effective systems for epidemic prevention and had no precise mechanism of statistics registration. It was even reported that until recently hospitals in the large Chinese cities turned out patients with symptoms of atypical pneumonia if the latter didn't pay for medical treatment. The diseased people found themselves in the street. The authorities don't want spreading of a panic. Yesterday director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Li Liming appeased the population and said that the death-rate caused by atypical pneumonia made up just 4%. He added that the death risk is particularly high with those patients who delay their visit to doctors, or with those who suffer from other diseases, heart disease or diabetes, for example. It is especially scaring that the epidemic has spread on China's poor provinces, such as Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. The level of medical aid is obviously retard there; indigent people have no money to come to hospital for medical aid. As Gao Qiang says, if the epidemic spreads to the rural area, the country will face extremely grave consequences. To avoid spreading of the infection, the government decided to abolish the traditional one-week vacations in May when people usually travel a lot about the country.

The 1st May holiday is no longer an ideology holiday for China; it has been turned into a market event. Last year, 75 million of Chinese set off for traveling about the country during the 1st May vacations. That made for the rise of the national economy at the expense of the domestic demand increase.  The abolishment of the May vacations will inevitably hit the economy; however, uncontrolled spreading of the epidemic about the whole of the country is even more dangerous.

Picture: China Health Minister Zhang Wenkang

Alexander Lomanov
Special for the Vladivostok newspaper