By Nautilus. Last year, in late December, Li Wenliang, a young ophthalmologist, wrote 150 of his friends from medical circles. He said he had seen a number of cases of viral pneumonia come into the Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked, and that they all seemed linked to the Huanan Seafood Market, the main source for restaurants in Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million people, and the most important city of the central regions of China. Five weeks later, Li was dead, at 34, killed by the same virus about which he warned his friends in the same hospital that had warned him not to tell people what was happening.
An online tidal wave of reflection and grief that I’ve never seen before resulted. My own personal WeChat feed was flooded with comments and tributes to him, ranging from poems to cartoons of him eating his favorite meal of fried chicken. The rage was directed largely at Wuhan city officials. After Li had written to his friends, he had been called into a police station, where he was forced to sign an unusual document designed to coerce him into silence. Later, he spoke to Chinese private media company Caixin, shedding light on the unfolding epidemic which, having engulfed first Wuhan and its surroundings, is now front page news across the world. Li became, as a result, the face and name of a censorship phenomenon involving a number of other doctors.
Rightly, people are in uproar about China’s security forces blocking Chinese doctors from sharing crucial public health information. To date, the coronavirus, a respiratory illness that begins with a fever before escalating to attack the lungs, has killed more than 1,300 people. Is Li a representative case of the failings of Chinese government censorship? Yes. Being punished for sharing information about a virus among medical professionals changes the incentives for everyone wishing to report the virus, cooling relations and slowing information.
But did censoring Li and others make the outbreak of the virus much worse, leading to many more deaths, as many Chinese people believe? Not so much. The censorship, and its subsequent chilling effect, is not what is killing people: What is a far more proximate cause of these deaths is the incompetence of the Wuhan government and the central health authorities in the two weeks that followed the censorship. They failed to prepare any sort of health system response, and the Wuhan authorities were preoccupied by a major political conference. When the virus took hold and became an epidemic, the health system was swamped. People were unable to access health services, and in some cases, people were contracting the virus when already sick or weak, making them more likely to succumb. . .
The Wuhan authorities knew that the epidemic was of grave concern, yet did not notify the public nor begin preparing. It seems most likely that they were completely occupied by the two political meetings, which took up all government and Party resources, and killed any air time for public health announcements—thus negligently wasting two vital weeks to prepare for any possible outbreak. For example, they lacked the capacity to test for the virus at the necessary scale, making only 200 test kits per day, and sending early tests off to Beijing for results. On January 20, Xi Jinping got involved and the vast Chinese bureaucracy kicked into gear, shutting down a whole province. Local governments were told to take any measures necessary. For the past three weeks, we have seen the overreaction: airports and travel grinding to a standstill, most of China working from home (around half of China’s citizens are unable to move), and various countries closing their borders to Chinese nationals. (Read more from “What Really Inflamed The Coronavirus Epidemic” HERE)
Coronavirus Epidemic Hits Global Tipping Point
By Hilary Brueck. The World Health Organization signaled on Friday that time may be running out to contain the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The window of opportunity is narrowing to contain the outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Friday during a press conference in Geneva. “We still have a chance to contain it. But while doing that, we have to prepare at the same time for any eventualities because this outbreak could go any direction. It could even be messy.”
More than 1,000 people are sick with the pneumonialike illness, COVID-19, outside China, and some new cases have “no link” to China’s Hubei province where the virus is thought to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, the WHO director-general said. It’s a first and “very worrisome” sign, he said, that the virus may be readying to spread broadly and independently outside the country where it originated in December. (Read more about the coronavirus epidemic HERE)
Coronavirus Cases In The United States Reach 34, And More Are Expected
By New York Times. At least 34 people in the United States are infected with the coronavirus spreading from China, federal health officials said on Friday. . .
But so far there has been no community spread of the infection in the United States, she added; all of the cases have been linked to overseas travel.
Eleven of the infections were diagnosed in travelers who fell ill after returning on their own from overseas, and two of their close contacts became infected. The other 21 patients are people who were returned to the United States by the State Department. (Read more from “Coronavirus Cases In The United States Reach 34, And More Are Expected” HERE)