A more substantial update will be coming tomorrow, but in the meantime, anybody in the Bay Area who happened to be listening to the program Forum on KQED today (or tonight, by my time) would’ve heard an excerpt from my email regarding Berkeley’s decision to turn away students from SARS-infected countries. I’m more or less in favour of it.
(By the way: I do know this is a controversial issue, and that a lot of people disagree with me on this one. Flame away in the comments, if you’re so-inclined; I think this is actually something that could be a lot of fun to debate. Debate, however, is best when everyone’s got up-to-date, reliable information, and a n excellent place to find some would be Tim Bishop’s sarswatch.org, where I first heard about the show.)
Here’s the text of my email, in full:
By way of self-introduction, I’m Brendan O’Kane, an American university student currently teaching English in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, in Northeastern China.
A worrying thing for those of us living in parts of China other than Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou is the lack of any kind of reliable information on how many SARS cases there are in our area – if there is even any kind of information at all. The government, despite its recent openness in reporting cases in Beijing, has yet to prove its honesty in areas of China where the WHO is not applying pressure. As a result, people in such areas are left with a choice between believing rumour (which inflates the actual number of cases), trusting official reports (which often undercount), pretending that SARS does not exist, or assuming that everybody is a potential carrier of the disease.
Recent measures taken in my city have chosen the last option – maximum suspicion. Travellers coming from any other part of the country – not just known SARS centres like Beijing and Guangdong – are assumed to be possible carriers, and undergo an examination upon arrival. Those coming from known SARS zones are quarantined. Smaller cities and towns don’t have the resources to implement programs like this, and instead simply seal themselves off, refusing to let outsiders in.
It seems to me that Berkeley has also chosen to react with maximum suspicion. As Berkeley, like many smaller cities in China, lacks the facilities to treat a case of SARS and to quarantine all suspected cases, it seems to me that there is no option but to turn away people who might potentially be carriers. While this is unfortunate, and will lead to inconvenience and disappointment for many, and while it is as unsophisticated a solution as that employed by small towns here, it may well be the only effective solution in such an uncertain climate.