At a press conference on May 30, Gao Qiang, the standing deputy minister of health, tried to cover for his predecessor, Zhang Wenkang, who was dismissed in April. Gao asserted that Zhang was not informed of the true situation at that time. These words gave rise to much criticism from outside China. It seems as though Gao Qiang was trying to reverse a verdict for Zhang Wenkang. This is, in fact, a misunderstanding. What Gao Qiang said on May 30 was exactly what he said at the first press conference on April 20 to make public the epidemic situation. This shows that the Party has not changed its attitude since the day it was forced to disclose the SARS epidemic situation in China.
As Zhang Wenkang said on April 3, there were only 12 SARS cases in Beijing with three resulting in deaths. Then was Zhang Wenkang deliberately covering up the facts? Or, as according to Gao Qiang, he really did not know the truth of the situation? Let's take a look at the report directly from the Xinhua News Agency [China's state run media].
Ever since the central government had decided to make public the epidemic situation, singing the praises of heroic deeds of medical staff has become a staple of the media in mainland China. However, from such reports, we are able trace some invaluable historical data about the outbreak of the SARS epidemic in Beijing.
It is revealed in the article entitled "Ad Hoc Report on Combating SARS at the 309 Hospital" published by the Xinhua News Agency on May 19 that the PLA General Logistics Department had issued an urgent notice: the 309 Hospital in Beijing had become the first fixed hospital to treat SARS patients. The president of the hospital, Cai Zhongjun and the political instructor, Tan Xinyuan, realised that a special war against SARS had started. The hospital immediately convened a committee meeting in the evening and established clear guidelines for the utmost efforts to be made to prevent the medical staff from being infected with SARS.
On March 10, the hospital established an executive team, which was given the power to make decisions based on the same standards as during times of war. The first emergency group that the hospital formed was made up of 50 professionals and experts who had extensive experience in treating contagious tuberculosis cases. The hospital also relocated 150 tuberculosis patients out of the three wards of the Tuberculosis Section and started to renovate the wards.
The article stated that on March 16 everything was completed. A special SARS Epidemic Section, which could accommodate more than 100 patients and over 100 medical staff, was ready for use.
Although the article deliberately avoided stating the number of SARS patients during that time, we can ascertain from the intensity of the activity in the hospital that the number was not small. This is in line with the information that Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a retired doctor from the 301 Hospital, provided for Time magazine. Dr. Jiang pointed out that in March, the 309 Hospital had accepted 60 SARS patients, among whom seven had died.
In another article entitled "Why Are Medical Staff Most Seriously Infected? -- the Truth Regarding the High Rate of Contagion of SARS in Beijing" published by the Xinhua News Agency, the process of how SARS was spread in Beijing at such an alarming rate in March was revealed.
The article stated that after the first SARS patient at the 301 Hospital, Yu, a woman from Shanxi Province was being observed in the Emergency Room on March 1, several medical staff had become infected.
On March 5, this patient from Shanxi was transferred to the 302 Hospital. By March 8, eight of her family members had been infected. Over the course of treating of this Shanxi patient, 15 medical personnel, including Ding Youhong, Li Linqing, Xie Xiaojian, Zhang Ruixin, Li Yuan and Xu Hongxin, became infected. Within a month, over 30 out of more than 40 medical staff from Wards 1 and 2 had become infected or were suspected of being infected.
On March 12, the You'an Hospital in Beijing took in a SARS patient over 50 years old from Shanxi Province. He infected at least 12 medical personnel at that hospital.
The article also reported that on March 15, the Emergency Section of the People's Hospital, associated with Beijing University, accepted a SARS patient from Hong Kong (he was later nicknamed "King of Poison" in Beijing). A large number of medical workers were infected by him. With the increasing number of SARS patients, 80 medical clerks in the People's Hospital became infected. Unfortunately, among them was Ding Xiulan, Vice Director of the Emergency Section, who died from it.
On March 17, the Hong Kong patient was transferred to the Dongzhimen Hospital, associated with Beijing Chinese Medicine University, where he infected a large number of people as well. Within a week, 11 medical personnel who had been involved in his treatment, including Liu Qingquan, director of the Emergency Section, were all infected. Among them were Dr. Duan Lijun from the Emergency Section and a nurse; they both died. In late March, some infected medical staff from the Dongzhimen Hospital and the People's Hospital were transferred to the Beijing Ditan Hospital. This led to infections among medical personnel in that hospital as well.
The article from the Xinhua News Agency also indicated, "After that, at least two medical personnel from the Beijing Dewai Hospital and five from the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital were infected. Li Xiaohong, a 28-year-old major physician for the Armed Police Beijing Headquarter Hospital became infected with SARS on March 30 and died on April 15."
What a frightening speed of contagion! And many of the infected are medical workers. The cases mentioned above mainly occurred in March (a big outbreak also occurred in April), before the press conference that Zhang Wenkang held on April 3. If Zhang Wenkang, the Minister of Health, truly did not know that his medical staff within the Beijing health care system had been infected on a large scale and that many had died, then he is guilty of dereliction of duty.
In actuality, the Beijing municipal government, the Ministry of Health, and the central government were quite clear about the severity of the epidemic situation, especially as it occurred in Beijing. A section director from the Beijing Xuanwu Hospital, who was infected with the SARS virus, revealed that around March 20, officials in Beijing's health care system convened an emergency meeting regarding the issue of attaching importance to the SARS epidemic. Additionally, a week after Zhang Wenkang's speech, Hu Jintao personally went to Guangdong Province. In meeting with the medical staff, he expressed words such as "We are concerned about...", "We are anxious to...", and so forth. It is obvious that leaders from the central government knew the truth, which is that, the epidemic situation had gotten out of control instead of "being effectively controlled." At that time, the rest of the world had collectively conjectured that a serious discrepancy existed within the central government with regard to whether or not they should make public the epidemic situation.
We can see clearly that Zhang Wenkang had intentionally concealed the facts at the press conference on April 3 when the outbreak of the SARS virus had become inevitable. This was done according to orders from the central government, particularly from Jiang Zemin. The reasons are: 1) they were afraid of inciting a mass hysteria; and 2) they were afraid of an impact to the Chinese economy if foreign investments and tourism became affected. And the actual reason for this is that the Party was afraid of incurring any losses to their interests because economic development has been the only legitimate excuse for them to be in power and to run the country. However, this time, their practice of deceiving the public to satisfy the interests of a few in power have caused the Chinese people and the people in the rest of the world to pay dearly.
Also worth mentioning is Gao Qiang's explanation on April 20 and May 30 for the tenfold increase in the number of people reported to be infected after the virus situation was made public. He said, "It is due to the lack of efficient communications among hospitals in Beijing, the inadequate preparation for an unexpected public health event and the weakness of the immune system relative to the virus." Ironically, the spokesman for the Beijing Health Bureau said on March 26, "The SARS epidemic in Beijing has been effectively put under control" because "a complete virus monitoring network has been established, a professional team for dealing with virus investigation and treatment has been formed, a virus testing laboratory has been set up, and relevant medical staff have been trained to deal with viral epidemics in order to guarantee the health of people in the capital city of China.". How is it that the Ministry of Health and the Beijing Health Bureau have two totally different accounts?
It looks contradictory and chaotic, but actually deceit is the common denominator for all their excuses. They deal with it however they please. People feel indignant about what Gao Qiang said on May 30, thinking that he has given up the open attitude he displayed on April 20. The fact is, he is but repeating what he said a month ago...
We must let go of the illusions and expose the evil. Our only way through this is to bring the evil and the lies out into the light of day.
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