International observers reacted with cautious optimism this week to news that China's parliament has beefed up its main infectious disease and control law, warning that the law needs to be properly implemented for it to have the desired effect.

"The new legislation sounds sensible–although the devil is always in the detail," said Vivian Lin, head of the School of Public Health, La Trobe University in Australia, and an expert of public health in China.

"From a Western perspective, we'd always be looking for an appropriate balance between coercive powers to protect the public and protection of individual liberties–privacy, autonomy, and confidentiality," she told The Scientist. "It's important to have reserve powers, but how they are exercised and delegated and scrutinized are important."

The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress responded to last year's SARS outbreaks by passing a revision of the country's Law on the Prevention and...

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