The government of China finally gave a response to this month’s outbreak of plague, which everyone fears. But, as is usually happens, fear is not the same for everyone. Some people fear the wrong things. The government is not worried about the germs and their spread, but about how they can manage the public reaction when it comes to the disease. All of their efforts have failed, however. The response of the public is clear: complete panic that is not justified by the facts.
On the 3rd of November, Li Jifend, who is a doctor at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital – that’s where’s the infectious disease treatment and quarantine center – took care of a middle-aged man who had trouble breathing, and his wife, who had a high fever and also was struggling to breathe. They had these problems ten days before they came to the doctor, but they did seek help in Inner Mongolia first. China’s response to this was normal. But what happens next is interesting.
Someone posted on social media description of the couple, which was then quickly deleted. Then, the government officially informed WHO – the World Health Organization – about these cases, as they should have, but not right away, but on the 13th of November, after everyone already found out with the help of journalists. Their goal was probably to avoid all the panic from people, but they just did the opposite. Because they did not have any piece of news directly from the government, people started to fear and panic and express their concerns on social media. Their fear also had a great excuse because of the role that was played by Chaoyang Hospital, which Beijing residents remember clearly from the 2003 SARS epidemic. In case you don’t know what we’re talking about: authorities hid the victims of the epidemic in the hospital, and they denied that the virus even reached Beijing at that time.