As the death toll from a deadly strain of bird flu in China rises to 17, China watchers say they are closely following Beijing's handling of the outbreak although officials appear to have learned a trick or two from the SARS crisis a decade ago.
Eight fresh cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus have been reported in the eastern provinces of China this week, bringing the total figure of those infected to 82, Reuters reported. China is also investigating the possibility of human-to-human transmission of bird flu, a top Chinese health official was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Some analysts are drawing parallels with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) between 2002 and 2003, which damaged international trade between China and other countries and led to the virtual shut down of Beijing, China's capital city.
If the bird flu epidemic accelerates in a similar fashion, investor sentiment could be severely damaged, said one analyst.
"The obvious benchmark is SARS. That was a catastrophe and the Chinese government learnt a lot of lessons from that," said Tim Condon, head of research for Asia at ING Financial Markets.
"At the moment the bird flu outbreak appears to be under control, but if it turns out to be much more virulent than expected you could see the same sort of reaction as we saw to SARS," he said.
The outbreak of SARS, a viral respiratory disease spread between humans, in South China and Hong Kong between the end of 2002 and the summer of 2003, affected around 8,000 and led to more than 700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Beijing was criticized at the time for its handling of the outbreak and downplaying the crisis, which led to panic and hurt China's economy.
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