China has been hobbled by the mysterious coronavirus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is now taking aggressive measures to regain control of the situation.
Nearly 60 million Chinese live under quarantine – more than the combined population of our entire West Coast. Videos filmed in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, show convoys of tanker trucks fogging empty streets with disinfectant. More disturbing videos show yellow body bags stacking up at Chinese hospitals.
Official Chinese tallies of the toll taken by the coronavirus as of Friday were more than 34,000 infections in that nation and 722 deaths. However, shortages of test kits and other resources indicate the real numbers are much higher, amid widespread reports that the sick are being turned away unexamined from hospitals.
One study estimated that coronavirus was “growing exponentially” in large Chinese cities, with more than 75,000 infected patients in Wuhan alone. That study’s projections went up to Jan. 25, when official figures claimed there were just over 2,000 cases in all of China.
We still have a chance to prevent coronavirus from becoming an epidemic in America, and even a narrow shot at heading off a global pandemic. Achieving this will require drastic changes from the Chinese Communist Party, whose secrecy and paranoia are responsible for the rapid growth of this epidemic.
The Chinese Communist Party must cooperate with the world and permit the free transmission of information among ordinary Chinese on the front lines of the disease.
In the early weeks of the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese authorities worked harder to suppress information about coronavirus than to fight the outbreak. When doctors started to discuss strange cases of pneumonia appearing in their clinics, the official response was to punish them.
One brave doctor, Li Wenliang, who warned his colleagues to wear protective clothing, was harassed by local police, attacked by state media, and forced to renounce his supposed “false statements.” He was reported to have died of coronavirus this week.
The Chinese Communist Party has now acknowledged that these doctors were right, but its policy of censorship and secrecy is little changed. Half-truths and falsehoods about coronavirus linger in official narratives long after they’re debunked, such as the claims that the disease originated at an exotic animal market or can’t be transmitted via human-to-human contact.
The Chinese Communist Party has been forced to abandon these claims in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
When Chinese Internet users flooded social media sites with indignation following the death of Dr. Li, their calls for freedom of speech were scrubbed from the Internet by censors. And the man who filmed body bags at a Chinese hospital was arrested and interrogated by police officers pretending to be hospital workers.
The central authorities, under the control of Chairman Xi Jinping, explicitly prioritize political security over fighting the epidemic, with grievous consequences for us all.
China’s coordination with the outside world has been little better. Chinese scientists only released the genome of coronavirus, which is essential to finding a vaccine, in mid-January – six weeks after the start of the outbreak.
And China has rejected repeated American offers to send teams of scientists and doctors to Wuhan. As the U.S. government took prudent measures to protect American citizens – including the announcement of travel restrictions late last week – Beijing issued propagandistic coverage that blamed our country for “spreading fear” about the outbreak.
The desire of public officials to downplay serious outbreaks of disease is a frequent historical occurrence – and it’s almost always deadly. Officials may hope by their actions to prevent panic, serious economic disruption, or political instability. But measures to suppress the truth about epidemics typically fail in their objectives, while hastening the spread of disease.
This human frailty, exacerbated by the suffocating dynamics of authoritarian regimes, was illustrated in the Chinese Communist Party’s disastrous response to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. In the early weeks of that epidemic, the Communist Party claimed falsely that the outbreak in Guangdong Province was under “effective control.”
Yet the disease was still spreading, and secrecy within the Chinese Communist Party itself delayed the government’s response. An early internal report on the disease went unread for three days because it was labeled “top secret.”
Rivalry between the military and political factions of the Chinese Community Party hindered its response yet further. The Communist Party only responded strongly to the SARS outbreak after weeks of growing panic, disruptions and death. It started by firing its top health ministers.
China is now learning anew the consequences of wishful thinking and secrecy when facing a deadly illness. The disastrous spread of coronavirus will surely take a toll on the party’s credibility in the eyes of the Chinese people – as it should.
But the Chinese government is still the central actor in this drama, and it can still play a constructive role in mitigating harm to the world from this coronavirus.
First, China must cooperate with world health authorities to combat the disease and allow international experts – including teams from the United States – to work and conduct research at the center of the epidemic in Hubei province.
Outside experts are most likely to provide the impartial analysis necessary to respond to coronavirus because only they are free from conflicts of interest and fear of censorship. The American offer to send medical experts and scientists to Wuhan still stands.
Second, the Chinese Communist Party must give the Chinese people more freedom to speak their minds and share information about the disease, however damaging or distressing to the regime.
This is essential for scientists, doctors and first responders, who must be free to speak candidly and creatively to identify problems in the government’s response and test solutions. But this is also important for ordinary Chinese, who become more suspicious of their government and less likely to obey its edicts the more they think it is hiding the full extent of the epidemic.
It’s worth noting that the Chinese government already has laws on the books that prohibit “concealing, misreporting, or delaying” evidence of infectious disease epidemics. To fight coronavirus, it ought to apply this very sensible lesson to itself as well.
Original article source: http://www.cotton.senate.gov?p=blog&id=1315 | Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council