At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, a ceremony was held at Wenchuan, epicenter of the powerful earthquake that jolted China on May 12, to announce the launching of joint action by army men, police and civilians to carry out disease prevention in the earthquake areas.
At the same time, a military medical team specializing in the prevention of epidemic diseases that affect humans and animals left Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, aboard a passenger plane on Wednesday morning, heading for Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Its members, all with doctoral degrees, are from the Military Veterinary Institute of the Military Academy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Their job is to sterilize the carcasses of dead animals that might harbor diseases that are infectious to humans and animals, said Gao Hongwei, head of the institute.
As earthquake relief campaign enters the 10th day, a top priority for the authorities and rescuers has become the prevention of infectious diseases in the quake areas, where numerous human and animal bodies are decomposing beneath the ruins, a hotbed for dangerous infectious diseases.
"It is not sheer alarmism," said Jiang Tianjun, a doctor with the PLA's No. 302 Hospital in Beijing, referring to the possibility of an outbreak of serious epidemic diseases in the areas stricken by the devastating quake.
The expert urged people in the affected areas to be vigilant against rats, mosquitoes, flies and bugs. Contaminated water should be cleared away from residential areas and pesticide sprayed to kill mosquitoes hiding underneath the ruins and other shelters, he said.
The expert advised people to sleep in mosquito nets, cover up drinking water and wear long-sleeved coats and long trousers. He also suggested that local residents get hepatitis-B vaccinations as soon as possible.
Recently, the China Center for the Control of Animal Diseases published a pamphlet on the prevention of animal diseases, advising people not to cut, eat, sell or transport dead animals. All animal carcasses must be sterilized and buried at least 2 meters deep, it said.
It also advised local authorities to closely monitor the situation, strictly control and supervise animal breeding, butchering, processing, transport and storage, and severely punish the trading of dead animals.
In the chatrooms of many Chinese websites, netizens are calling for the government to take immediate action to prevent possible epidemic diseases, while persuading people, mostly volunteers, to stop flooding into the affected areas from other parts of the country.
To make way for the upcoming large-scale disease-prevention efforts, military rescuers have began relocating local residents, mostly villagers, away from their homes in the worst-hit areas.
On Wednesday, a 3,200-person detachment of the Chinese People's Armed Police resettled 4,149 villagers from the remote areas of Wenchuan. According to military sources, soldiers searched the villagers' homes door to door, to ensure that no one was left behind in the affected villages, which will be completely sterilized in the coming days.
As of noon of Wednesday, the death toll from the quake had reached 41,353 nationwide, while 274,683 people were injured and 32,666 still missing.
It was even more powerful than the Tangshan earthquake in 1976 in terms of scope and intensity, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said during his inspection of the quake-hit areas in Sichuan.
Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the catastrophe in Tangshan of north China's Hebei Province claimed about 240,000.
(Xinhua News Agency May 21, 2008)