“If one believes the media, the world has repeatedly been devastated by large new epidemics over the last two decades. At the beginning of the 1980s, AIDS appeared, a few years later came hepatitis C, followed by BSE in the 1990s and by 2003, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
But these new epidemics differ from epidemics of the past on one decisive point: while the plague, cholera and typhoid fever ruined whole cities, the number of those actually affected by the new epidemics is comparatively small.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, just a few hundred people die from AIDS
each year in Germany. As for hepatitis C, we are still waiting for the liver cirrhosis epidemic. And the BSE epidemic has not presented most countries with a single clinical case, but rather only positively tested animals.
Although death from so-called infectious diseases is increasingly becoming a
rarity (here in Germany less than 1% of all mortality), our modern world is plagued by epidemic fear. How else could a few cases of pneumonia-and that is what it was all about with the SARS patients-invoke such fear in Chinese citizens that, en masse, in large cities like Hong Kong and Singapore/ they put surgical masks over their mouths? Such masks could be found on every desk in the Chinese province of Ningbo? The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the City Commercial Bank of China decided to stash bank notes away for 24 hours before bringing them back into circulation (in the hope that the SARS virus would waste away on the notes during this time?) and even went as far as sterilizing money by exposing it to ultraviolet light for four hours and by treating it with disinfectants.
The German sporting goods manufacturer Adidas, which produces more than
half of its worldwide-sold sneakers in China, reacted with emergency response
plans; even relocating production to Indonesia was considered. But first, activism on a smaller scale was practiced when a strike force distributed a leaflet of hygiene regulations to factory workers asking if all workers wore protective masks and regularly washed their hands.
German chemical giant BASF reported, meanwhile, that they had experienced an outbreak in their office, when a Chinese secretary became ill over a weekend. But luckily, all 250 employees already knew about this come Monday: after the first reports on SARS, BASF had ordered every employee to carry a card with the telephone numbers of three colleagues in their pockets, so that in case of emergency, everyone was required to call the colleagues immediately. So, over that weekend, the news had gone viral via phone lines and 20 people who worked closely with the ill secretary were ordered to stay at home. Simultaneously, the entire floor where the secretary worked was disinfected for two days, and from that time toilets were scrubbed many times daily. A BASF spokesman expressed his satisfaction: “The crisis management has worked.”
Lufthansa, in contrast, was completely caught off-guard by the crisis. The German airline lost more than € 300 million in the first quarter of 2003 after many airplanes were grounded. And then the group announced that another 15 planes had to be quarantined bringing the total number of grounded planes to 70.
In the hysteria, everyone completely overlooked the fact that people constantly
contract pulmonary infections and die. Yet the World Health Organization alleges
that there were just less than 800 “probable SARS fatalities,” in the first nine months after the outbreak of the “epidemic” began at the end of 2002-in China, it is worth noting, with its 1.3 billion people, 6 as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
These few hundred deaths are so few that they only make up a fraction of the pneumonia cases constantly at hand.
SARS: Hysteria on the Heels of AIDS and BSE
SARS “counts among the very rare diseases,” as the Deutsches Arzteblatt
emphasized in April 2003. And three years later, in July 2006, they reported that
the (presumably existing) SARS-Coronavirus “is clinically irrelevant.”
Why such mass panic? Even the rock band The Rolling Stones felt compelled to
avoid Hong Kong and Singapore, and the head of the University of California at
Berkeley forbade hundreds of incoming Asian students from coming to the elite
institute. It was even surmised that Asia’s economy and stock markets stood on the brink of collapse….”