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Confidence the Key in Fight Against Bird Flu

As the highly contagious bird flu virus spreads across Asia, the affliction has become embedded in the popular lexicon through media reports and ordinary conversation.

The new crisis appeared when many in the region were still reeling from the bitter memories of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and it has unavoidably triggered public panic in some places.

In China, thanks to sufficient and timely information and scientific knowledge about the disease released by government agencies and the media, the normal life of the general public remains unaffected and the majority of citizens have chosen to face the crisis with a cool head.

However, it is true that as an increasing number of Chinese provinces are added to the official list of both confirmed and suspected H5N1 bird flu cases, more and more people find they can no longer enjoy chicken or duck dishes like before. Sharp business declines registered by fast food giants McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken in some places have underlined that impact.

Worse, for some people the panic has magnified to include all poultry-related products -- even of the inedible variety. Some wrongly hold that with the outbreak of bird flu, not only chickens, ducks and other fowl are unsafe food, but their eggs, down jackets and even down quilts are unusable.

Apparently, these worries are not based on scientific knowledge. Experts point out that high temperatures quickly kill the virus, so cooked chicken and duck dishes are safe, as are down jackets and down quilts because they have usually gone through the treatment of sterilization and high temperature in production process.

Since much still remains unknown about the virus, especially its links to human beings, and medical experts have proved that the avian virus is much more deadly than SARS, it is understandable that overreaction and even panic should occur at this early stage.

Nevertheless, people should overcome their worries and stop overreacting, because this can easily dampen the national efforts against the scourge.

As countermeasures taken by the governments concerned are bearing fruits and scientists have prescribed measures to reduce the chances of human infection of the bird flu, cool-headedness and confidence are what we need now if we are to defeat bird flu.

To restore public confidence, it is good for the government to continue its practice of giving timely reporting on the development of the disease and enhancing its efforts to provide the newest scientific and medical findings and knowledge of prevention to the public.

In this regard, it is heartening to see that some places are taking thorough and meticulous measures to whip up public confidence in combating the crisis.

For example, in Beijing concerned departments told citizens who have a penchant for keeping birds as pets what should be done in this critical period. In Shanghai and Guangdong Province, high-ranking officials have been seen in restaurants enjoying food made of chicken products, sending a clear message to the local residents that it is safe to eat chicken and eggs so long as they are cooked properly and pass quarantine checks.

There are more examples of this kind of positive spirit and confidence -- all of which help with the current battle against the avian virus.

(China Daily February 9, 2004)

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