The Guangdong government has come under fire, perhaps unfairly, for mishandling the mystery flu outbreak. Residents said it was too slow in giving out information about the spread of the virus, which has killed five people and infected 300 over the past two months. The Southern Metropolis News said the government had done a good job but was inexperienced and tardy. It proposed setting up a crisis management centre to handle any future incidents. The information blackout until February 10 spawned rumours on the Internet and through mobile phone text messaging, leading to panic measures far out of proportion to the gravity of the outbreak. While there is some truth in the view that China prefers to publicise good news and suppress the negative, it is unfair to portray it as the only country that has badly handled a health crisis. Mass hysteria is easily whipped up even in countries with a free flow of information. The anthrax scare in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States had Americans stocking up on food and medicine. People in Guangdong were behaving perfectly normally when they joined queues to buy anti-flu medicine, disinfectant, salt, rice and oil. As for the debate about whether the government could have been more timely in its announcement, it comes down to a question of balancing the public's right to information with the possibility of creating panic much earlier. Any responsible government would not announce there was a health crisis when only about 100 people had been infected. Even with five dead and 300 infected, the numbers are still small in a population of 60 million. If the 105 infected medical workers had taken precautions, the number of new cases would have been lower. As a result, the sick doctors and nurses have been heavily criticised by colleagues for not observing basic medical practices. And to give the government its due, it did move within hours to quell the subsequent panic that led to the huge queues of people stocking up on the basics.