‘I promise to omit the truth, suppress the truth, and report everything but the truth, so help me Mao’ is probably the motto of the Chinese Coronavirus task force (or should I say, the Coronavirus cover-up force?), established when the disease was first spotted in the city of Wuhan at the end of last year. The first case was documented on the 17th November 2019 and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) censorship machine was in overdrive as a result. The Chinese Government has a special privilege when a crisis arrives, because – as in all dictatorships – they control the flow of information, having the power to administer to the clueless citizenry what has been tailor-made for them to hear, while mercilessly repressing anyone who attempts to question their monopoly over the truth. After all, dictatorships have an incentive to relentlessly push the false narrative of ‘everything’s fine’, because the health of the nation forms the legitimacy of the regime. However, dictatorships inherently harbour the fatal illness of censorship, and certain disease outbreaks can become so deadly that they can form the bedrock of children’s nursery rhymes; just as the Black Death provided the inspiration for ‘Ring Around the Roses’, the Coronavirus pandemic has gifted the tune ‘China Lied, People Died’.
Originating in a so-called ‘wet-market’, where exotic animal meat (such as those of bats and snakes) is procured, a strain of the Coronavirus had evolved to make the leap from animal to human. As days pass, many local residents began to express symptoms, with hospitals in Wuhan noticing an influx of patients. Very soon, medical staff begin to contract the disease (which has become a major issue around the world). However, Chinese officials move into the denial phase, opting to ignore the emerging disaster, with the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declaring that there is no proof of human-to-human transmission despite the overwhelming evidence that this was the case given the sheer number of people falling ill (many having no connection whatsoever to the animal market). Meanwhile, samples collected from patients are examined in laboratories, identifying that the culprit is a highly contagious and potentially dangerous SARS-like-virus, but the Chinese Government shuts its eyes again. The findings, which should have automatically triggered a great deal of concern from China’s health authorities, is instead ignored by those on the executive level responsible for enacting solutions when these sorts of outbreaks occur.
Despite the Chinese Government burying its head in the sand, it does not stop the disease from spreading. It does not alert the nation, or the world, and it does not prevent the few who know about the outbreak from blowing the whistle. That’s when suppression takes centre stage. Dr Li Wenliang, who was a physician at the Wuhan Central Hospital at the start of the outbreak in December, became concerned about the spread of a new SARS-like-virus after he spotted the corresponding symptoms in some patients. He sent a text message to fellow employees warning them about what is happening, advising them to take measures to shield themselves from the virus. In a twist of fate, the Chinese Thought Police intercepted the message, arresting the doctor (and seven others) on the 30th December, coercing him to write a confession detailing that he had been spreading false information. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Even so, this show of force did not provide Dr Wenliang with the necessary protective equipment, so he inevitably contracted the disease, tragically passing away on the 7th February 2020.
Then, after much delay, the Chinese authorities suddenly divert some of its attention into fighting the disease itself, contacting the World Health Organisation on New Year’s Eve. At this point, China is getting desperate.
Nevertheless, behind the scenes, the censorship machine is still running at maximum overdrive; on the 3rd January, China’s National Health Commission orders laboratories analysing the new disease to destroy any samples and test results they currently possess, and to avoid sharing or publishing any knowledge they have gained about the virus. But why do this after the state has summoned international help? Perhaps the answer rests on the fact that the Chinese Government is terrified of what they have unearthed within their own anatomy. Whilst looking to the past for the security of their future, they are concerned that their image on the international stage will become irreparably tarnished. China’s animal markets (whether as a result of butchering animals which naturally carry dangerous diseases or general uncleanliness) have already been blamed for the SARS pandemic, as well as for being the starting point of the Bird Flu outbreaks in the 2010s. Now how does the saying go? Fool me twice, shame on me? Will the Chinese economy attract the investors and entrepreneurs it requires in order to develop, when a new, and predictable, disease outbreak paralyses the country every decade?
Although having their hand forced into acknowledging the existence of the disease, the censorship machine moves into ‘disaster control’, concealing the true scale of the outbreak, assuring its citizenry that the situation is being effectively handled. But this does not mask the reality; the outbreak has spiralled out of control.
On the 12th January, the genome of the Coronavirus is established for the first-time which China’s National Health Commission hands over to the World Health Organisation (WHO), marking the point where the world knows what it is fighting. Yet this generosity shown to the WHO only extends so far, as on the 19th January, the WHO issued a statement outlining that not enough crucial information is known about the virus regarding how it is spread or how many people may have contracted it. The Chinese authorities know – they’ve just neglected to inform them.
Then suddenly, on the 23rd January, China hits the nuclear button, placing Wuhan, a city of over 10 million people, on lockdown. But by this point, it is far too late; on the 13th January, 10 days prior, Thailand records its first case, which was also the first occurrence of the virus rearing its head outside of China, and on the 24th January, Japan documents its first case.
So where are we now? At the time of writing this, Italy has just extended its lockdown to well into the month of April, with over 12,000 dead; The United States has the most cases in raw number – over 200,000; the situation in the United Kingdom is getting progressively worse by the day, with nearly 2,500 dead (although I struggle to see how local police forces drone spying on morning dog-walkers is going to alleviate the problem). What about China, the birthplace of the pandemic? As the number of confirmed cases surpassed 80,000, it all of a sudden dropped to zero new cases per day. A miracle! It turns out that they haven’t just been hiding the problem, they’re hoarding the solution as well. This is no doubt a game-changing innovation in a world where the coronavirus has completely tanked the global economy, brought commerce to an abrupt-end, and imprisoned millions of people across the world inside of their own homes thanks to government-mandated house arrests. Except the rest of the world has already overdosed on China’s vaccine: Lies.
If only the Chinese Government was a little bit quicker on the draw in controlling the disease in December as it is now, the extreme measures currently undertaken by the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and elsewhere would not have even been considered. The virus would likely have been trapped in the immediate vicinity of Wuhan, stretching only to a few other areas, albeit with minimal cases (certainly less than the numbers we have today). In fact, a model simulation formulated by researchers at the University of Southampton discovered that if China had acted three weeks earlier than it did, it would have cut the number of infections by 95%. This would also have halted the virus’ rapid spread around the world. Instead, the Chinese Government elected to act as the greatest petri dish for Coronavirus to manifest and spread, far more effective than what millions of asymptomatic carriers are capable of spreading with globalised travel at their fingertips.
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