Chinese and foreign tourists crowded parks, temples and markets in bright spring sunshine in the Chinese capital on Monday, apparently shrugging off the latest outbreak of SARS.
The World Health Organization repeated its message that there was no need to cancel travel plans on Monday, the third day of a week-long May Day break in China during which tens of millions of people have traveled on holiday.
The latest outbreak of SARS has killed one person and infected at least five. Three people suspected of having the potentially deadly flu-like disease are in hospital in Beijing and over 1,000 people have been placed in isolation.
The WHO believes all cases are linked to one viral disease laboratory, which, if correct, makes the outbreak easier to control.
No new cases reported
“It appears they are all linked to a localized laboratory,” WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said. “We can’t conclusively say (the cases) are at the lab entirely and there are no new cases outside ... but there are no new cases we have heard of.”
Airports and railway stations have installed thermal scanners to check passengers for fever, a telltale symptom.
An outbreak of SARS last year prompted the government to cancel the May Day holiday, one of China’s three annual “Golden Weeks” when businesses close and much of the country travels, giving the economy a shot of consumer spending.
Last year’s outbreak, originating in southern China, went on to kill nearly 800 people worldwide.
'There is no fear at all'
China came in for criticism last year for failing to report the outbreak when it first appeared but this time the WHO has applauded China’s efforts to cut the chain of transmission.
“There is no fear at all,” said French tourism businessman Frederic Gossot as he sat in the sun with a beer at an outdoor German bar in Beijing. “People understand that more measures have been taken this time around. There are much more dangerous things in the world to worry about.”
Angelica Baehr, who manages a touring jazz and classical music group from Germany, said she was struck by the absence of people wearing masks, ubiquitous during last year’s outbreak.
“The only people I have seen wearing masks in Beijing are the cleaners in the Forbidden City,” she said. “I am aware of the SARS outbreak here, but not many people have been affected and I am not afraid.”