2020-10-05 09:02:52

Update: At a Nov. 5 press conference, Lanzhou authorities said 6,620 out of 55,725 residents tested were positive for brucellosis, and that eight executives at China Animal Husbandry Industry Co. Ltd., which accidentally released the bacteria, had received “serious warnings” or disciplinary actions, including removal from their posts. Only 337 affected residents have agreed to the local authorities’ compensation scheme since it was proposed in September.

For the first time since thousands of people in Lanzhou contracted brucellosis from a vaccine-making plant’s contaminated exhaust last year, authorities in the northwestern Chinese city have announced a compensation plan for those affected — although not everyone is satisfied with it.

Sick residents in Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper that they received the government’s plan for covering their medical treatment and emotional distress on Saturday. Affected residents are being divided into four groups depending on the disease’s impact on their health and will receive compensation ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of yuan, depending on the severity of their illness.

Last year, untreated exhaust containing brucella bacteria was emitted from a veterinary vaccine plant run by China Animal Husbandry Industry Co. Ltd. Hundreds of researchers and nearby residents were exposed to contaminated aerosols and became infected with the bacteria, which can cause fatigue, fever, sweating, and back and neck pain.

In September, Lanzhou’s health commission said that after two rounds of antibody tests, the city had identified 3,245 patients — far more than a previous estimate of mere hundreds. According to the commission, 21,847 people in total were tested. Some 1,401 of the 4,646 people who were positive in the first round of testing returned negative results after the second test.

Brucellosis is a Class B infectious disease in China, along with AIDS, SARS, and malaria. In the absence of early diagnosis and treatment, brucellosis can become a chronic condition that is difficult to cure and requires long-term medication.

Many of the more than 3,000 residents who became infected with brucella since being exposed last December were not immediately diagnosed, and in the absence of timely treatment have developed chronic illnesses, according to domestic media outlet Caixin.

Now that a government compensation plan has finally been put forward, some residents aren’t satisfied with its terms, and told Caixin they can’t accept it. The compensation standards depend largely on an “expert assessment” of the disease’s impact on the health of the residents who tested positive more than once: “no health damage,” “adverse reaction,” or “adverse reaction resulting in disability, death, or other severe consequences.”

One local resident who was diagnosed with brucellosis and tested positive for antibodies multiple times told Caixin that she was classified among those to whom the exhaust leak had caused “no health damage.” People in this group tested positive for antibodies twice and are entitled to 7,571 yuan ($1,100) in compensation — compared with 3,785 yuan for those who only tested positive the first time. Meanwhile, people whose health conditions are deemed serious will have their full medical costs paid, in addition to receiving living expenses and forfeited income.

“We don’t know who these experts are, which institutions they’re affiliated with, or what their evaluations are based on. Why are infected people with symptoms being assessed as unaffected?” an unnamed resident with the disease was quoted as saying. Another resident told Caixin they refused to accept the plan and were disappointed that it seems no third party was involved in setting the compensation standards.

According to screenshots of the compensation plan, the reparations are a one-off payment: Once those impacted by the outbreak sign the agreement, they will not be eligible to seek further compensation from China Animal Husbandry Industry, the company responsible for the leak.

Lanzhou health authorities are currently conducting further medical checks in the community to identify any remaining infected individuals.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A takeout delivery driver in Lanzhou, Gansu province, March 3, 2020. People Visual)