City finding its feet after outbreak

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 12:00am

But Taiyuan residents still do not know what to believe

When Sars first disrupted life in Taiyuan in early March, the People's Daily had the community bulletin board to itself.

The three million inhabitants of Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, stayed at home out of fear or simply by following orders from their workplaces.

Migrant workers returned to their homes in rural areas, leaving restaurants to shut down. No tourists visited the province, which claims 70 per cent of China's above-ground historical relics.

But since the Labour Day holiday, when the number of new cases in the province began to fall, newspaper readers have returned to the bulletin board, located southwest of the city's railway station.

Faithful reader He Qiying, a 67-year-old retired political science major from Shanxi University, said yesterday's attendance of 20 at the board was about normal but warned that people should not drop their guard.

He said people in Taiyuan had regained the confidence to go out because of the decline in Sars cases, but added that cases had been found in different areas of the city, leaving residents confused. 'Every day we get statistics, but we don't know what to believe,' Mr He said.

However, there were no new cases reported in the province yesterday, and a Taiyuan health official said the outbreak appeared to be under control, a view shared by many residents who have discarded their face masks.

Early detection of the disease, effective quarantine procedures and travel restrictions had helped the city recover, said Deng Xiaowei, a communicable disease expert with the Taiyuan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said Taiyuan accounted for 284 of the 303 people discharged from hospitals in Shanxi, where 21 people have died. 'Our measures are about the same as the national ones,' she said. 'We talk to other areas, and the central government is putting emphasis on it.'

The city is slowly returning to normal. Women are shopping for summer fashions and men are again taking mid-afternoon cigarette breaks that are a feature of the old quarter.

People in parks are playing cards and students are huddling in pavilions studying for the National College Entrance Examinations.

'It's got to be better than a month ago, so we can all relax,' said Zhang Jianguo, who travelled to the city from an outlying district yesterday.

But despite these encouraging signs, people are still backing away from strangers, and each day in Yingze Park a group chants about boosting their immunity.

University students cannot leave campuses. Primary and secondary schools are closed until late next month. A notice at the No 5 Secondary School gate explains that a campus staff member has contracted Sars, and asks anyone who knows the victim to submit themselves to a period of self-imposed quarantine.

Temples and museums, the major tourist attractions, are closed, leaving vendors outside with no business. Cancelled outward rail services have not resumed, and incoming passengers must undergo two body temperature checks and fill out two health forms.

The World Health Organisation has hailed the drop in new cases in Shanxi, but plans to send a team of experts in two weeks to learn more, said WHO spokesman Bob Dietz. The WHO issued a travel advisory for Shanxi on April 23.

Locals remain sceptical. They say that since the central government covered up statistics before mid-April and has experienced difficulty in controlling the illness, more problems could follow.