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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chinese Alarm Bells Sound

I have been following the efforts of the Chinese government over the last year to shut down internal, non-approved communications systems. They have largely succeeded in shutting down web communications, they banned texting on cell phones, and this morning I read about a new initiative placed into effect:
China announced Sunday detailed controls on the distribution of news by foreign news agencies, banning all content that violates its own tight media restrictions.
...
The detailed rules ban news content that disrupts "China's economic and social order or undermine China's social stability," Xinhua said.

The limits also ban news that undermines the country's "national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity," it said.
This move was guaranteed to cause a lot of controversy and publicity, because while the dedicated humanitarians of the western press couldn't care less about a lot of Chinese peasants, they care very, very much about restrictions placed on the western press. Indeed, whatever was released today sounds like the earlier proposal prohibiting reporting on disasters, which did draw protest. This is the full rule published at Xinhua.

And I wonder if this has anything to do with the pig illness in China. Very little information is seeping out, but there is some sort of illness that has killed at least a million pigs in several Chinese provinces recently. Supposedly it started in June/July. See ProMed1, ProMed2. Naturally this news has aroused the interest of the flubies, because 1918's pandemic is thought to have jumped to pigs before becoming an epidemic, and the genetics of H5N1 in Indonesia don't support the idea that the disease is jumping solely from birds to humans, but rather that there is some mammalian intercessor, and that mammalian strains are jumping back to birds.

Excerpts from the latest ProMed release:
A pig disease has occurred in some mid-sized and small farms and farming households in some parts of China's South this summer. A spokesperson from the News Office of China's Ministry of Agriculture said today that the number of cases has already been substantially reduced and the disease situation is easing. (Sept 4th)
...
Yesterday (Sept 5th), the provincial government held an urgent, province-wide videoteleconference [the province in question is Hubei; see URL for map below] on prevention and control of serious animal diseases, demanding fast action from all parts of the province, paying special attention to prevention and control work against the unknown pig high fever illness, to ensure increased agricultural efficacy and increased farmer receipts.

Since the middle of July 2006, an unknown pig disease has occurred in the neighboring provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hunan and Henan, and other areas. Already 40 percent of pigs have died from infection. As of mid-August this disease had already spread to parts of Hubei. Conditions are relatively serious. According to reports, the pig disease is characterized by high fever, sudden onset, rapid transmission, and high mortality rate.
I don't find it credible that they haven't figured out what it is but that they have determined with certainty that the disease is not zoonotic. Good sources with which to follow this story, if any other news seeps out are ProMed, CurEvents.com's Flu Clinic and Recombinomics. My private H5N1 indicator just jumped a level up. There were seven (1=least risk, 7=most risk), and now I am on level 6, which generally equates to WHO's level 5.

Comments:
Glad to hear life is good to you, MOM! I share your scepticism about some aspects of 'news' coming out of China. In fact, my next posting (hopefully up by mid-week)examines their much-vaunted new bird flu vaccine. You never feel you're getting the whole story and, bearing in mind, China was probably the cradle of SARS - on which China was silent until forced to come clean, maybe we should curb our enthusiasm until we've got the incontravertible facts. All best, Gippo
 
Enthusiasm? It's more like "eek"!

Still, I can't see that the news blackout is different in basic principle than everything else they've done in the last year.

The news thing is qualitatively different, though, because it looks like they will blacklist any organization that doesn't comply, and therefore prevent it from reporting at all.

Mind you, knowing the Chinese half of this could be insurance against any disruption of the Olympics.
 
Hello, MOM - hope you've had a chance to read my 'chinese communique'.... I gotta feeling I won't be very welcome at the Olympics! Gippo
 
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