At the New York Times Yanzhong Huang recounts the history of the Chinese authorities’ response to the SAR outbreak of 18 years ago:
The Chinese government’s initial response to SARS was, at least at the national level, a combination of inaction, denial and deception. The earliest case of SARS occurred in mid-November 2002; it’s clear that by late January of 2003 the Health Ministry was aware of a dangerous new type of pneumonia in Guangdong Province.
Yet the government did not issue a nationwide bulletin to hospitals with instructions for preventing the spread of the disease until April 3. And it was not until mid-April that it formally listed SARS as a disease to be closely monitored, with daily reports.
In the wake of that debacle, the Chinese government does seem to have become more willing to share disease-related information with both its people and international health organizations. But the government continues its top-down, state-dominated approach in disease surveillance, reporting and response.
suggesting that, like the Bourbon dynasty, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. There is an enormous difference between now and eighteen years ago in China. The people are much more prosperous, three times as many people have mobile phones, and most of those have smartphones. It is much harder to keep a secret than it used to be.
Not only that but there is considerably more travel between China and the rest of the world.
There is nowhere in the world more conducive to the outbreak of zoonotic diseases than China, although probably now less so that at any previous time in China’s history. If a great pandemic occurs, it will probably emerge from China. Although we shouldn’t panic, we should be treating episodic outbreaks as trial runs. It would be nice if the Chinese authorities were more forthcoming but you deal with the China you have rather than the one you’d like to have.