China has always censored how much inside information is revealed to the world. With the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the nation, many have accused Beijing of remaining tight-lipped about the matter, worsening the situation in the process.
Not transparent enough
The first to speak out against the state restrictions on information sharing was Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, the city which is at the epicenter of the viral outbreak. “As a local government official, after I get this kind of information I still have to wait for authorization before I can release it… This is one thing people didn’t understand at the time… Comrade Ma Guoqiang and I are willing to accept responsibility… If in the end you say someone has to be held accountable, you say the masses have opinions, then we’re willing to appease the world by resigning,” he said in an interview with local media (The Wall Street Journal).
Reports from experts outside China have also reaffirmed that the regime has been underreporting the real scale of the virus outbreak. According to researchers from the Imperial College of London, every person carrying the virus has the potential of infecting 2.6 other individuals. In order to prevent the outbreak from turning into a pandemic, the authorities would have to block transmission of over 60 percent of the cases.
In the province of Heilongjiang, the high court issued a notice warning people that anyone spreading “rumors” about the outbreak would be charged with a prison term of up to 15 years. Doctors who have been trying to bring attention to the severity of the outbreak have faced criticism and repression at the hands of authorities.
One journalist suggested that healthcare workers in Wuhan were being made to cremate bodies in order to conceal the true number of people who have died from the virus. Cremation centers have reported a sharp rise in the number of dead bodies of coronavirus victims. “Local officials downplayed the outbreak at the initial, but crucial, stage of the outbreak. The media was muzzled. The public was kept in the dark. As a result, valuable time was lost,” Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, said to The New York Times.
A potential cure
According to official data, more than 252,000 people are under surveillance in China. The province of Hubei has been the hardest hit with 16,678 infections and 479 deaths. In total, about 490 people have been reported to have died all across the country, with over 24,000 people being infected by the coronavirus.
The mortality rate of the coronavirus is said to be around 2 percent, which is far less than that of SARS which had a rate of 10 percent. But given the possibility that the Chinese government is likely lying about the figures, one should take all official data with a grain of salt.
On the positive side, news of a potential cure is coming out of China. “The researchers found that Arbidol, an antiviral drug used in Russia and China for treating influenza, could be combined with Darunavir, the anti-H.I.V. drug, for treating patients with the coronavirus… The researchers did not say how many patients they had treated with the combination therapy… The findings have not been reviewed by outside experts,” according to The New York Times.
Gilead Sciences Inc. has announced that it is working with China to come up with a treatment for the virus. Johnson & Johnson has already started work on a vaccine. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.