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Citing SARS, ‘Let’s Go’ Cuts China Guide

By Elisabeth S. Theodore, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard travel series Let’s Go has canceled this year’s China guide because of concerns about SARS, the mysterious respiratory illness that has killed over 300 people worldwide.

The student editors of the series decided last Tuesday that the risks of infection and the resulting quarantine meant that they could not safely send student researchers on summer trips to China—which has been hit particularly hard by the disease.

Let’s Go publicity manager Megan M. Brumagim ’04 said that because researcher-writers travel through both rural and urban areas, the possibility of contracting the disease was significant.

“It looked like things weren’t getting any better,” she said. “We just decided it wasn’t safe for a researcher.”

Beijing, China’s capital, had reported 59 deaths and 1,200 cases of SARS as of yesterday among its population of 13 million. Total deaths in mainland China increased by nine yesterday, to 140.

“It was a decision we had to make as a company,” said Nitin Shah ’04, a spokesperson for the publication. “We had to consider the worst case scenarios, and we agonized over the decision for a long time.”

The move came two days before the University announced that it would ban all Harvard-funded travel to SARS-affected countries, including China, Singapore and Vietnam, as well as Toronto.Although Let’s Go has so far only cut travel to China, Shah said a decision is still pending on whether researchers will be permitted to go to Toronto.

Guide information on Toronto is included in a general USA and Canada book, and Shah said that guide’s editors have put Toronto at the tail end of the researcher’s 50 to 60-day itinerary.

If Toronto has contained the disease by that time, Let’s Go will send a writer.

Canada has reported 18 deaths and 142 cases of SARS.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday that the disease has been contained in Vietnam—which has not reported a new case since April 8—and is being contained in Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong, all of which have had slowing infection rates.

In China, however, the worst may be yet to come.

“In China, as you know, we are receiving more and more reports of cases and it doesn’t appear it has peaked,” David Heymann, chief of communicable diseases for WHO, told reporters during a summit in Bangkok yesterday.

Brumagim said that even with a fully updated China book, sales would have been down. “If there is an epidemic in China, no one’s going to travel there anyways,” she said.

Let’s Go writer Max G. Lin ’03, who planned to research for the China guide this summer but now will head to Japan, said he would have traveled to China despite the risk.

“The editors had a voice but no say,” Lin wrote in an e-mail. “They were against cancelling the book and in favor of waiting to see if conditions improved, a view shared by most of the research writers.”

Lin, a math concentrator, added that he thought worries were overblown considering the relatively small statistical risk of infection.

“Even after considering the unpredictable nature of epidemics and the possibility that the statistics being released by the Chinese government are incorrect, I still feel that the risk of contracting SARS is on the acceptable side,” he said.

Because other Let’s Go writers have quit over the course of the spring, editors and researchers working on the China guide have been able to take positions working on other guides, Shah said.

—Material from the Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Christopher Schonberger contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Elisabeth S. Theodore can be reached at theodore@fas.harvard.edu.

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