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Beijingers Reject SARS Panic
More than 19 out of 20 Beijing residents surveyed have refused to react to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) threat by panicking, according to a survey.

Less than 5 percent of 1,800 people surveyed by phone during the May holiday by the Beijing Municipal Statistics Bureau described the reaction of themselves and their families as "panic,'' the bureau said yesterday.

The percentage is 2.9 percentage points lower than that found in an earlier survey conducted by the bureau a fortnight previously, according to Zhang Xueyuan, a public-relations officer with the bureau.

Taking into account Beijing's huge population, the decrease speaks for itself regarding the effectiveness of the efforts of the municipal government and of many non-governmental organizations to calm down local people, said Zhang.

There has been a lot of publicity on television, radio, and Internet, as well as in newspapers and magazines. Dozens of official and non-governmental hotlines have also been set up to answer people's queries on SARS and to help reassure them.

Wang Hongjiang, a senior student at Peking University's medical school, has been working with his fellow students on a round-the-clock shift at the SARS hotlines of the Beijing Emergency Medical Center.

He said he can receive as many as 80 calls in any eight-hour shift, but this number is much lower than when he started this job in mid-April.

"Moreover, there are no longer that many panic calls,'' said Wang. "People know something about the disease and the right ways to protect themselves against it.''

He said the most frequently asked questions at this stage tend to be specific ones seeking professional opinions on certain symptoms and sterilizing procedures. "People prefer staying at home and making phone calls to visiting hospitals,'' said Wang.

By yesterday, most Beijing people had gone back to work. After a mostly confined May Day holiday, some had an irresistible desire to try to carry on with their normal lives as much as possible, despite the disease.

Bu Lin, a 30-year-old who works at the Beijing office of an international welfare organization, said the first thing she would do after work yesterday would be to go to the birthday party of an old classmate.

"We have called the owner of the bar to make sure that the place will be sterilized this afternoon and have good ventilation this evening, when a bunch of us will get together to drink and dance,'' said Bu.

"Although SARS is still around here, life must go on.''

Bu said the decision to throw the party was taken during the May holiday, when most of her friends, like Bu, complained that this year's May holiday was the most boring ever.

They ventured out to the city's Zhongshan Park. The view was gorgeous but what impressed them more was the crowds there happily enjoying the beautiful sunshine and blossoming flowers.

"Isn't staying happy essential to keep disease away? Also, a 30th birthday party is really something for a woman,'' she said.

The statistics bureau survey also indicated that more than half of Beijing people went shopping or on other outings during the holiday.

Of those surveyed, 69.4 percent said they were confident that the government would have SARS under control within three months.

(China Daily May 8, 2003)

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