Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". You know, springtime here in the US isn't normally a time to worry about the flu. Reported cases of the seasonal flu have been declining around the country as the days get warmer, but it's a different story altogether for cases of bird flu in China. Today, Chinese authorities reported a sixth death from a new strain of bird flu. We called up The World's Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing for the latest on reaction in China to these cases.
Mary Kay Magistad: The Chinese government says it's going into nationwide alert on this. It has decided to close down the market where chickens are sold in Shanghai starting tomorrow temporarily until it figures out what's going on. There have been 20,000 birds culled because there had been some virus found in some of them, including in some pigeons in the Shanghai market
Werman: Do you have a picture? Does anyone have a picture of who has been infected? Are they young? Old? Does their work involve handling birds?
Magistad: So there were a couple of people involved who work in markets with birds. There was one cook who would have handled possibly a live bird and then the meat afterward. But the victims of one of the first deaths was an 89-year-old man. One of the youngest people who got sick was a 4-year-old child who recovered. So it's a pretty wide spread.
Werman: As you said, the Chinese Central Government has announced a national alert. There's a sense of urgency they'd like to convey obviously, but 10 years ago when the SARS epidemic began, the Chinese government waited months to admit there was a problem. I gather there was also a delay this time with the announcement, right?
Magistad: What happened 10 years ago was that when SARS first appeared in Guangdong Province in southern China it was known to be this deadly flu. Local officials were concerned. It spread to Hong Kong. It spread elsewhere by March. The World Health Organization had called in a global pandemic and the Chinese government kept playing it down until late April. Why did it do that? Because 10 years ago in early March, there was a leadership transition just like there was early this March.
Magistad: The cases where the first two people died, that was late February. So it was just before the National People's Congress opened and the leadership transition occurred. It's really hard to know.
Werman: You're implying that wanted to wait until the leadership transition had happened before announcing it?
Magistad: Either local officials really didn't know what they were dealing with or possibly the leadership decided, "Let's wait until after the leadership transition." It's just impossible to know.
Werman: Mary Kay, how worried are people in China right now? And what worries them more? The dead people? The confirmation of another bird flu virus? Or the fact that the Chinese Central Government wasn't totally transparent about the deaths when they happened?
Magistad: Well, online there certainly have been comments about "How do we know this isn't another cover-up? How do we know this isn't worse than what you're telling us it is?" So far both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control have said, "We're not yet seeing reason to be overly alarmed." In fact, I just got a notice from the US embassy here that said, "OK, here's the information you as a US citizen in China need to know. So far we don't think this is spreading from human to human. There are investigations underway to figure out how this virus is spreading, but there's no need to be overly armed or to take excessive precautions."
Werman: Speaking with us from Beijing, Mary Kay Magistad, The World's China correspondent. Thank you.
Magistad: Thank you, Marco.
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