APArts Jiang Yanyong in Beijing (2004 photo)
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 15:40
The man who managed to prevent the SARS epidemic in China from being covered up has died. Former army surgeon Jiang Yanyong died of pneumonia in Beijing this weekend, Chinese media in Hong Kong reported. He was 91 years old.
Jiang is said to have saved many lives 20 years ago through his actions in the early stages of the SARS outbreak.
The doctor worked at a hospital in Beijing at the time. In April 2003, the Minister of Health appeared in the media to inform the public that there were “only a handful of cases” of the new deadly respiratory infection. But Jiang said he had heard of more than 100 SARS cases at that point in military hospitals alone.
He then sent a letter to Chinese state media denouncing the government’s lies. They ignored his revelations. The letter was eventually leaked to Western media, which paid extensive attention to it. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) was called in and the Chinese government was forced to admit misinformation.
Not just revelations about SARS
Immediately after the revelation, the government took strict measures, slowing the spread of the virus. Because of the letter and the death of a Finnish employee of the United Nations, the minister of health and the mayor of Beijing had to step down.
“I felt I had to reveal what was going on, not only to save China, but also to save the world,” Jiang said. For his acting, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award from the Philippines in 2004, a kind of Asian Nobel Prize.
That same year he again went to war against the Chinese government. He called on the Communist Party to recognize that the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student protest in 1989 was wrong, and that thousands of civilians may have been killed. This is not openly discussed in China.
Jiang and his wife were placed under house arrest several times and banned from overseas travel. Still, he continued to express his point of view. In 2019, he sent another letter to President Xi calling the events of June 4, 1989 a crime. As he is a politically sensitive person, the news of Jiang’s death is not reported in Chinese state media.
Sars and the coronavirus
According to WHO figures, a total of 8,908 cases of SARS have been registered worldwide since the virus emerged in the southern province of Guangdong. In the end, 774 people died. The majority of the infections were in China.
Jiang’s story is reminiscent of that of Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist from Wuhan who in December 2019 warned of a new “sars-like virus”: covid-19.
After falling ill himself, he took to social media to question why authorities claimed medical staff were not infected. He was investigated by the police for “spreading rumours”. In February 2020, he died from the effects of the coronavirus.
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