A growing cluster of swine flu cases in the Chinese capital Beijing has raised fears the city might be moving toward a “China flu” outbreak similar to an epidemic that hit the country five years ago, when more than 160,000 people died.
But there is now a noticeable lack of awareness of the danger, and it is believed that security measures have already been put in place to keep mainland Chinese fans at home.
The Chinese government routinely bars foreign athletes and visitors from traveling in large groups, and have long warned that if a flu breaks out in China, more people die than if there were an outbreak in Boston.
But in past flu scares, the government has often been slow to release information about a virus and its spread. In 2008, authorities said that a cold epidemic that killed about 4,000 people had originated in one province. An official there had no idea that the cases were in the southeast.
This year, an outbreak of strange, little green blobs of pollen has swept through China and claimed more than 10 lives. Officials are still not sure how it began, but they say it is likely to have been transmitted from a seasonal disease.
In that case, which spread through a segment of the Eastern half of the country, the government initially struggled to persuade people to wear masks to prevent flu-like symptoms.
But this year, there seems to be far less public concern.
The surge in cases of so-called swine flu, though, has been driven entirely by mainland Chinese citizens who have contracted it while traveling overseas, causing concerns about whether they would return home infected.
There is no sign that authorities are taking this threat seriously enough. Officials are anxious to showcase China’s prowess in sports in the 2022 Winter Olympics, when they say that the city of Pyeongchang will be a “safe and secure” place.
And pandemic fears have largely dissipated, even in the United States. Many officials here, said to be fearful of the old Chinese government stereotype of U.S. policies as too imperialist, were suddenly shaken only a few years ago by another outbreak, Ebola, during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But in 2016, a health official at the White House assured the public that it was not necessary to rush to judgment about disease spreading in the U.S.
Information about recent outbreaks, though, seems to be scattered and slow to arrive.