‘China bird flu is US biological weapon’

The long, cold winter is finally making way for a chilly and breezy spring in Beijing. It was the longest ever winter for me; the first bout of snowfall was in the first days of November and at the end of last month was, hopefully, the last snowfall of this winter. In between, temperatures plummeted to some -18 degrees on Christmas Eve and stepping out of my centrally heated home meant putting on and putting up with around five layers of clothes.

Well, it’s still very chilly now – like December in Delhi. But roadside trees are springing back to life and the first flowers of a new season have begun to bloom in my apartment’s well-tended garden.

But the winter did not recede without a last bite or more correctly, the last deadly infection. As of Wednesday, at least nine people have died and more than two dozen infected with a rare strain of bird flu, H7N9 in some provinces of China.

Poultry markets have been shut down in cities including Shanghai and citizens with symptoms are being quarantined. It’s not yet – at least from the official version about the spread of the rare flu – taken the proportion of the 2003 SARS epidemic when more than 8000 people were infected and nearly 350 died.

There are other differences this time as well. For one, the government seems to be more open about sharing information about the disease; the SARS epidemic in China 10 years ago is also notorious for the Communist regime attempting to suppress information about epidemic resulting in more infections and deaths.

And, this time, online China is also playing a part in disseminating information about the H7N9 virus. “Bird Flu” and “H7N9″ are trending on China social media websites and netizens are sharing information about the spread of the disease, speculating about unreported cases and sharing their doubts and worries.

Last week, according the TeaLeafNation website that tracks China’s online social media, said one of the most retweeted post on Weibo, a top Chinese social media site, was an email allegedly written by the CEO of 360buy.com, a top electronics e-commerce retailer, to his employees.

“Four additional cases have been reported in Jiangsu, and what is more terrifying is that these four people had no contact with each other. What that means is that we don’t know how to treat it and we don’t know how it’s being transmitted. In order to ensure the safety of our colleagues, I am requiring that employees in all regions take action to protect everyone.”

While many have appreciated the efforts of local governments to keep the public updated about the disease, some official reactions, according to the website, have drawn criticism and scorn.

“Many mocked Jiangsu’s Department of Health for issuing a statement claiming that Chinese herbal medicine banlangen could prevent H7N9. The medicine was formerly touted as a preventative measure for SARS and swine flu, despite a lack of scientific evidence to that effect. Commented one Weibo user, “Maybe their relatives sell banlangen.” Another wrote: “We haven’t even figured out how the virus mutated, or how it is transmitted, but you’re selling a preventative medicine?”

But probably the largest volume of scorn was reserved for a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonel who said the flu strain was a biological weapon unleashed by the US.

As reported and translated by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Dai Xu, a colonel in the PLA air force, and lecturer at the National Defence University, said: “The national leadership should not pay too much attention to it. Or else, it’ll be like in 2003 with Sars! At that time, America was fighting in Iraq and feared that China would take advantage of the opportunity to take other actions. This is why they used bio-psychological weapons against China. All of China fell into turmoil and that was exactly what the US wanted. Now, the US is using the same old trick. China should have learned its lesson and should calmly deal with the problem.”

Like a true man from the army, Dai was defiant when there were calls for his resignation.

He added that it was “common knowledge” that some Chinese had “been injected with mental toxin by the US”.

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