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Washington University Global Studies Law Review





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Severe Acute Respiratory Disease (SARS) is caused by a coronavirus, and as of this writing has no known vaccine or cure. Generally, the disease starts with a high fever, headaches, body aches, and mild respiratory symptoms. SARS spreads through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person when he or she coughs or sneezes or through physical contact.

The disease was first identified in a southern province of China in November of 2002, and quickly spread to twenty-seven different countries. In March of 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared SARS a global health threat. In China, the economic and social costs of the outbreak were enormous. By June of 2003, 5,327 people were infected, and 329 died as a result of these infections.

In the 2003 outbreak, the global effort to combat SARS hinged on how effectively China dealt with the crisis. Unfortunately, initial information about the outbreak in China was concealed for fear of damaging local image and trade. As a result, the epidemic quickly gained momentum and erupted into a national health threat. After the SARS epidemic devastated Beijing in April of 2003, the Chinese government began a transparent approach and openly launched a national campaign against SARS. Newly enacted SARS laws played a crucial role in establishing the SARS reporting system, allocating medical resources, and administering quarantine and isolation. The epidemic was brought under control in June of 2003.

Despite this eventual success, however, examination of the legal aspects of the Chinese government’s reaction to the SARS epidemic and in-depth analysis of the new SARS laws shows that SARS could have been much better contained. Further, it reveals that changing China’s traditional indifference toward existing laws would be far more effective in preventing epidemics than its current approach of enacting new laws for the same purpose.

Recommended Citation

Chenglin Liu, Regulating SARS in China: Law as an Antidote?, 4 Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev. 81 (2005).

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