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15 seconds of fame

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:

Hi.
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.

5 Comments

  1. Sterno wrote:

    Hard to disagree. As reported in several western newspapers, Vietnam’s drastic sealing off of affected hospitals in the beginning of the epidemic appears to represent the only successful (so far) elimination of the disease in any country. While there will certainly be new cases there in the future, those actions clearly were effective in protecting millions of potential victims. Sometimes simplistic answers are most effective despite undesirable social aspects. Take care of yourself, Brendan.

    Thursday, May 8, 2003 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  2. Dan Say wrote:

    Your Stanford did it right. No ban necessary, just
    a quarantine place. The catching isn’t as easy as
    people think is.
    We are not even sure if there is a mild reaction not
    noted in milder cases.
    Children in the Lancet article had mild reactions.

    Berkeley is hysterical in its ban. Better to just
    set up a testing regime and invite them all in.
    The biggest danger in the U.S., Canada and China is the barriers to travel.

    Thursday, May 8, 2003 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  3. Prince Roy wrote:

    I think Berkeley knows better than any of us what its health care system could or cold not handle.

    In response to Dan Say, I would say that too little is known about SARS or the extent of its reach into infected areas. Berkeley is doing the prudent thing.

    It’s also backed off a bit in that it is now adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude towards the latter summer sessions. So it’s not a complete summer ban anymore.

    Sunday, May 11, 2003 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  4. hnjjz wrote:

    Hey Brendan, I’ve been reading your blogs for a while, but posting here for the first time. Stanford actually banned 20 or so Chinese students from attending a conference at Stanford a couple of weeks ago. So I guess Berkeley’s action is not really that extreme when compared with what other universities are doing, especially since Berkeley’s ban is only for the summer session. However, I still think this is an over-reaction. Banning summer session students from Asia is not going to make Berkeley any safer. There’s still plenty of travel by faculty, grad students, and visiting scholars, not to mention the many residents in the Bay area that travel to Asia for business or family reasons.

    Anyway, I really look forward to your postings from Harbin as I have numerous relatives living there. Just wish you’ll write more frequently :-)

    Monday, May 12, 2003 at 5:10 am | Permalink
  5. lu wrote:

    the banning makes me and my parents feel safer…

    Sunday, May 18, 2003 at 7:57 am | Permalink

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