Thursday, May 26, 2005

Qinghai, as of now

New Scientist is providing a bit of additional information on the Qinghai (China) reports of many people dying of an unidentified cause in the same area as the recent die-off from bird flu of migratory birds. Not much more information, but a little.

The reports come from an online Chinese language news service, Boxun (Abundant News), where correspondents may freely post information. (Here is the link for Chinese readers. Further information solicited and appreciated). Postings there on May 25 reported 121 people in 18 villages have died of bird flu, with approximately 1300 people having been "isolated."
The media reports are said to have come from nine correspondents in Qinhai, who report that people connected to the cases have been forbidden to talk to outsiders. Boxun cautions that the reports cannot be independently verified, but says it hopes by drawing attention to them they can be further investigated.

The reports say that sick people in the border region between Qinghai and the neighbouring, impoverished province of Gansu had visited the nature reserve where the birds were found. But they also report that there have been large scale outbreaks of unexplained deaths among livestock in the area.
China has a spotty record for open reporting, the most notorious example being their cover-up of the SARS epidemic in 2003. However it is widely believed Chinese authorities recognized this was a damaging policy and have generally been given good marks since then. Given this history and the remoteness of Qinghai province in northwest China there remains some legitimate skepticism about official denials. If the reports are true, it is a serious evidence a major pandemic is solidly underway. At this point, however, we do not know if these reports are true in their entirety, partially true but distorted in some way, or completely false.

This is another example of how a history of lying is ultimately self-defeating. If there is indeed an outbreak there it will become known in short order and it is useless to cover it up. We anxiously await better information.

Update, 11:23 pm, 5/26/05: Snowy Owl of the CurEvents board has kindly provided us a translation from the Chinese of the boxun site linked above. Thanks to Mikala who did the translation and Snowy Owl who sent it on. It is in the Comments to this post (comment number 3). You will have to draw your own conclusions from it.

Update, 2:35 pm, 5/27/05: From China Daily (reporting press conference held by Jia Youling, director general of the Veterinary Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture):
Qinghai Province, has been sealed off right after death of some migratory birds was found. He said there had been no precedent in the world to prevent and control avian influenza among migratory birds, and China's measures are all aimed at preventing the virus from spreading to domestic animals and human beings.

Up to May 26, more than 1,000 migratory birds including bar-headed geese and great black-headed gulls were killed by bird flu virus in northwest China's Qinghai Province. No tourists and irrelevant persons had been allowed to get into the habitats of migratory birds and the infected areas since the outbreak, he said.
"Sealing off the province" might be the source of the "blackout" rumors and also the suspicion something dire was happening there. We will keep watching developments.