Date
21 October 2018
A woman walks past the US consulate in Guangzhou on Thursday. A group of people from the consulate had been brought back to the United States for further evaluation after showing signs of an unknown illness. Photo: Reuters
A woman walks past the US consulate in Guangzhou on Thursday. A group of people from the consulate had been brought back to the United States for further evaluation after showing signs of an unknown illness. Photo: Reuters

US expands China health alert amid illness reports

The US State Department on Friday issued an expanded health alert for all of China amid reports some US diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury and has already affected US personnel in Cuba, Reuters reports.

A previous statement in May only mentioned the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou as the location for the health alert, though it was sent to US citizens throughout the country.

The State Department had confirmed earlier that one US employee assigned to the consulate in Guangzhou had “suffered a medical incident”, and that it had deployed a team to screen employees and family members there.

On Wednesday the US government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms, and reiterated that it was offering screening to anyone at the US embassy in Beijing or other consulates in China who requested it.

The US also operates consulates in the mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan.

The updated statement, sent by email, changed the location of the health alert to “countrywide” from Guangzhou.

It warned of “unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena”, and said symptoms of the ailment included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, as well as difficulty sleeping.

China has said that it thoroughly investigated the initial case reported by the US and found no reasons or clues to explain it.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that as far as she was aware the Chinese government had not had any formal communication with US officials on any new cases.

State-run Global Times tabloid called the situation at the consulate “very strange”.

“Practically all Chinese people do not believe that this country’s official organizations would carry out such sonic attacks against US diplomats. This does not fit with China’s basic concept and principles of diplomacy, and is inconceivable,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

It also said people found it hard to believe that another foreign country could carry out such an attack in China, escape China’s monitoring, and leave no trace.

Last year, 24 US government employees and family members in Cuba displayed the symptoms, which were similar to those related to concussion and mild traumatic brain injury, according to the State Department.

The illnesses among the American diplomats stationed in Havana heightened tension between the old Cold War foes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Tuesday saying the department established a task force last month “to direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents”.

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