BEIJING (Reuters) - China has vowed to disclose any human cases of swine fever promptly, while state-run newspapers on Tuesday urged officials to be open and avoid the kind of cover-ups that brought panic during the SARS epidemic.
The empty streets, schools and shops, worried citizens wearing masks and fleeing travelers now seen in Mexico are familiar to China, where in 2003 the SARS virus shut down much of the country, killing hundreds in the mainland and Hong Kong.
But back then Chinese officials hid the growing toll from “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” from the public for weeks before spreading deaths and rumors forced the government to reveal the epidemic, apologize and vow full candor in future disease outbreaks.
Now Beijing is promising to stick to full-disclosure if there are any cases of the swine flu found in the country. None has been reported so far.
Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qun’an said China had “demanded all medical bodies at all levels strengthen monitoring of suspected cases, and swiftly report the identification of any suspected cases,” according to a Xinhua news agency report late on Monday.
On Tuesday, official newspapers pressed further, telling readers that the public should also be quickly told of any cases.
“Disclosure of information will help to swiftly sever channels of infection,” said a commentary in the People’s Daily, official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.
“Now we must stress that any case of swine fever, even if it is merely a suspected case, must be immediately reported and immediately made public, ensuring the public’s right to know, and making everyone vigilant to block the spread of the disease.”
The Global Times, a popular tabloid, said in an editorial that “China must be totally transparent” about the threat.
“Six years ago, the SARS epidemic taught China many lessons,” it said. “However, compared to some developed countries, we still have areas needing urgent improvement, and an especially important one is enhancing transparency.”
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates