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China Cancels May Day

Filed in: health, travel, Sun, Apr 20 2003 09:52 PT

From: Tokyo, Japan

Here’s a sign you have a public health problem: you cancel your week-long national holiday to keep your 1.1 billion people from spreading it around. The Chinese government has also fired its health minister and the mayor of Beijing for letting things get out of control.

Now, I’ve been riding various trains and subways in Tokyo over the last 24 hours, and I’ve seen my share of people wearing masks. I’d guess that 1-3% of the people I’ve seen on the subway have been wearing masks. And while it’s tempting to cough openly in their presence to tweak them a bit, it’s occurring to me that people here have reason to be a little nervous.

I was supposed to have been in Beijing last week, and up until a few days ago, I would still have gone. But with the recent (huge) jumps in the number of reported cases, and news like this, there’s some serious risk to be taken into account. Before I canceled, my flight had been merged with another Air China flight, presumably due to other cancellations for similar reasons as mine.

I’m taking basic precautions in public while I’m here. For one thing, I’m keeping my hands away from my face. Every surface you touch in a subway has had a million hands on it, so this is good advice in any populated area. I also wash my hands before eating, which is easy to do in the restaurants here, where every meal comes with a towelette. Other than that, there’s really not that much one can do, short of the mask treatment. Oh well. At least Japan’s first cases have only started rolling in.

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