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PRC response to deadly virus outbreak inadequate; its repression of information worrisome, critics say

PRC response to deadly virus outbreak inadequate; its repression of information worrisome, critics say

Top Stories | Jan 25, 2020:

FORUM Staff

The latest outbreak of a recently emerged lethal coronavirus in China, which is spreading globally, reveals that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has not sufficiently improved its public health management practices since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) disaster 17 years ago, critics contend, which was caused by a similar virus.

Many health experts wonder if the true number of the mysterious coronavirus cases may be substantially higher than the PRC has disclosed, even though the PRC has been more forthcoming than it was during the SARS epidemic, which killed 650 people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003 and which the PRC largely sought to cover up.

Critics also allege that the PRC did not issue travel precautions and restrictions quickly enough to keep the virus from spreading across China and beyond its borders.

“I thought SARS would force China to rethink its governance model,” Xu Zhiyuan, a video talk show host in China, wrote on social media on January 21, 2020, according to The New York Times newspaper. “I was too naive.”

The PRC has censored critics of its response to the newly emerged coronavirus that had killed dozens of people and infected hundreds by late January 2020, according to figures released by Beijing. Already, the virus, which can be spread by human-to-human contact, has infected people in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. (Pictured: Air travelers, some donning masks, arrive at Ivalo Airport, Finland, on January 24, 2020.) Two tourists, not pictured, visiting Finland from Wuhan sought care at an Ivalo health center for suspected infection with the coronavirus.

The virus, for which there is not yet a vaccine or treatment, can cause fever, cough, shortness of breath and a type of pneumonia that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. Health officials don’t yet know the fatality rate of the virus, but at present, it is lower than SARS, which kills about 10% of infected individuals, CNN reported.

London scientists have calculated that the actual number of cases in Wuhan through January 22, 2020, probably reached 4,000 or about 10 times the number PRC officials had then publicly reported, according to a paper published by researchers at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at the Imperial College.

Counter to sound public health practices, the PRC has detained people for spreading what it considers “rumors” about the outbreak, according to The New York Times. The PRC has also systematically suppressed information about the outbreak, especially on social media, such as reports on its initial spread to Chinese cities outside Wuhan and several deaths therein.

Since 2003, the PRC has silenced everyone who was critical of Beijing during the SARS health crisis, and it has exerted greater control over discourse on the internet and by media, advocates and citizens, critics allege.

“The system is successful in that it destroyed the people with integrity, the institutions with credibility and a society capable of narrating its own stories,” Xu wrote on social media, The New York Times reported. “What’s left is an arrogant power, a bunch of messy information and many fragile, isolated and angry individuals.”

“The authorities are sending a signal, which is that only the government agencies can talk about the epidemic,” Yu Ping, a former Southern Metropolis Daily reporter, wrote on his personal blog, The New York Times reported. “It’s not public disclosure,” Yu wrote. “It’s a naked information monopoly.”

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