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Villagers riot over SARS measures

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 6, 2003

BEIJING - Opposition to official efforts to contain SARS turned violent in recent days when villagers in two Chinese provinces rioted and ransacked quarantine facilities, state media reported Monday.

In the capital, meanwhile, pet owners were outraged by a newspaper's report of a resident who threw his ailing dog from a sixth-story apartment window. As neighbors looked on, he then buried the wounded animal alive in the building's communal lawn.

"I think that people are really delirious with panic," Li Xiaoxi, a legislator in Beijing's Haidian district, told the online edition of the official People's Daily. "Sentencing animals to death based simply on conjecture and rumors is inhumane."

Since late April, when the government formally declared war on SARS, Cabinet-mandated inspection teams have been scouring local government records for unreported cases and firing officials for lax prevention efforts. Urban districts are competing for the lowest infection rates. And frightened citizens also want to see strong measures.

Under these circumstances, "it's safer for local officials to be overzealous than to be seen as ineffective," said Qinghua University historian Qin Hui.

But some efforts have provoked backlashes.

In coastal Zhejiang province, about 100 angry residents from two adjacent villages surrounded a government dormitory in the village of Xiandie on Saturday, according to the Metropolitan Express newspaper in Hangzhou, the provincial capital.

Local officials had converted the building into a medical observation facility to accommodate six travelers returning from Beijing, but the villagers demanded that the facility be scrapped.

The villagers stormed into the building, smashing three offices and beating and injuring three officials who tried to stop them.

That incident followed one last week when residents of Chagugang township, 45 miles southeast of Beijing, burned and smashed a schoolhouse they believed was being converted into a SARS quarantine facility.

In other developments:

The University of California at Berkeley is banning summer school students from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan because of SARS. The move, believed to be the first among major U.S. universities, affects more than 600 students.

Hong Kong will set up a regional medical surveillance and research center to study SARS and spot future illnesses before they can turn into epidemics, Tung Chee Hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, announced Monday.

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