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December 12, 2005

China hiding bird-flu cases?

The Globe and Mail gave me a shock this morning with a prominent story: China hiding bird-flu cases: expert.

The reporter, Geoffrey York, is a well-known journalist, and the story is based on claims by Hong Kong virologist Dr. Guan Yi:

"Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven't announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research. The government doesn't do any surveillance studies, but they say there is no outbreak."

He gave the example of Yunnan province, in southwestern China, which shares a border with Vietnam. More than 90 people have died from the bird-flu virus in Vietnam, yet the Yunnan officials denied any outbreak of bird flu in their province until Nov. 17. In reality, the virus has been circulating in Yunnan for months, according to Dr. Guan's data.

all very exciting stuff, and Guan Yi as I recall has blown the whistle before on Chinese cove-ups. But "more than 90" dead of H5N1 in Vietnam alone? All the sources I see give a total in the low 40s, with just over 70 fatalities in all nations combined.

Maybe this is just a goof by the reporter, even a typo. The story is certainly worth reading and considering, but don't take it as the New Revelation.

Update: I wrote to Geoffrey York about the 90-deaths statement, and got a prompt response:

As for my story, I thought the Vietnam reference was to "human cases" rather than "human deaths". If my story said the latter, it should have been the former, and an error may have crept in somewhere along the line.

And indeed Vietnam has officially announced 93 cases of avian flu, with 42 deaths. With that cleared up, York's story becomes a major challenge to the credibility of the Chinese government.

It also raises questions about what other governments and agencies know or suspect. Is WHO being diplomatically silent, or does it really not know anything? Do the US and Europe believe what they've been told about human cases in China? And what about China's neighbours—Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Koreas, and Japan (not to mention Russia and the central Asian republics)?

If they know the Chinese are covering up again, what's their motivation for being so tactful? And if the Chinese aren't covering up, how do we assess Guan Yi's findings?

Posted by dymaxion at December 12, 2005 01:41 PM

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