Beijing (Fides Service) – The outbreak of SARS has had at least one positive effect on China: greater freedom to use the Internet, until now under strict government control. Following the dismissal of the Chinese health minister and the mayor of Beijing, Chinese web sites began to divulge much more information on SARS and with greater speed. In Internet traffick is booming and the grip of censure has been relaxed, especially since Beijing needed to touch up its image marred by a lack of transparency in information during the early stages of the epidemic.
It should be said that it was through the Internet that news of SARS was first reported by a group of young men in Hong Kong who sounded the alarm and attracted local and international attention. The importance of the alarm launched on-line cannot be denied especially for mainland China.
In the meantime the Internet is playing a major role in fighting SARS from both the scientific and human points of view. The Beijing hospital where SARS patients are housed is in contact with laboratories via the web twenty four hours a day, exchanging valuable information on conditions of patients and treatment.
Scientists the world over are using modern technology Internet and video-telephones to share useful information on SARS to follow and fight the development and spread of the virus. Doctors and scientists miles apart attend in conferences and meetings on line or via e-mail while researchers make available via computer the results of their work .
The internet is also used by those in Beijing in quarantine because of SARS to keep contact with the outside world: doctors, nurses and patients keep touch with relations via video telephones, as well as exchanging information with researchers and keeping updated on the details of the struggle against the virus.
Moreover, since the interior ministry announced that schools of all grades will remain closed for another two weeks, the internet is also useful for students to keep up date with school programmes. On May 6 an On-line School Service promoted by the Beijing City Education Committee was officially started.
However the Internet can also be a danger from which people must protect themselves: unreliable news spread over the web leads to panic and confusion. As time passes the Chinese are learning to use the Internet with prudence and caution. (Fides Service 5/5/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 419)