The coronavirus epidemic has laid bare the skeletons of the Chinese government. As the deadly virus continues to spread unabated, the Chinese authorities seem to be losing control not only on the virus but also the narrative as their closely guarded secrets are revealing themselves one after another.
Chinese conglomerate Tencent accidentally revealed what are suspected to be the true numbers of the fatalities of the coronavirus which are much higher than the official numbers and now various medical experts have claimed that the virus first originated in November which contradicts the government’s stance of the virus origination at a seafood market in Wuhan in December.
The death of Chinese doctor and whistleblower Dr Wenliang has further infuriated the Chinese nationals and with the Xi Jinping administration fast losing its grip over the country, it may well start a rebellion against the Chinese Community Party.
Last year saw the Chinese government attempting to stifle the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to little avail. Hong Kong seems determined to gain independence from the throngs of the Chinese Communist Party and now the coronavirus epidemic has arguably resulted in Xi Jinping’s biggest challenge to retain his iron grip over China. Tencent’s accidental revelation that over 25,000 fatalities and 1,50,000 people infected reveal that the coronavirus is no ‘outbreak’ as maintained by the Chinese government but is a full-scale epidemic.
The airborne virus has virtually spread across the entire country as during the Lunar New Year celebrations on January 25, mass-scale travels took place in China after which Coronavirus has been spread to nearly every part of the country and also Hong Kong where Chinese patients were being taken to receive free and better healthcare until the Hong Kong leadership was pressurised to close the border. The virus has been the most fatal in the eastern part of the country which constitutes some of the most densely populated cities in the world.
The understated numbers have caused a huge public outcry in China which was only compounded by the fiasco over Dr Wenliang’s death. Li Wenliang who was one of the first whistleblowers who tried to warn about the Coronavirus has sadly succumbed to the virus after treating the patients of the virus. His voice was muzzled by the Chinese authorities and as China erupted in grief and anger, the state-run media squarely pinned the blame on local authorities. When Wenliang on December 30, sent a message to fellow doctors in a chat group warning them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection, four days later he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau where he was told to sign a letter. In the letter, he was accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order”. He was one of eight people who police said were being investigated for “spreading rumours” Local authorities later apologised to Dr Li. In his Weibo post he describes how on 10 January he started coughing, the next day he had a fever and two days later he was in the hospital. He was diagnosed with the Coronavirus on 30 January.
Even in his death, Wenliang was disrespected by the Chinese government as to when he was initially declared dead at 21:30 local time, the news triggered a huge wave of popular reaction on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. The top two trending hashtags on the website were “Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang and apology” and “We want freedom of speech” which were of course quickly censored by the government. Wenliang’s death saw the Global Times and People’s Daily contradict each other. The People’s Daily sent out a tweet saying Dr Li’s death had sparked “national grief”.
However, Global Times then said he had been given a treatment known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) which keeps a person’s heart pumping and keeps their blood oxygenated without it going through their lungs. Global Times said he was in a critical condition. Journalists and doctors at the scene, who do not want their names used, told the BBC and other media that government officials had intervened. Official media outlets had been told to change their reports to say the doctor was still being treated.
Instead of confronting the virus and seeking help from other countries, China is resorting to bizarre measures. The province of Hubei, where the impact of the virus is the most severe, has switched off lifts in high-rise buildings to discourage residents from going outside while Beijing has banned group dining for events such as birthdays and weddings while cities such as Hangzhou and Nanchang are limiting how many family members can leave home each day.
Despite the full-blown epidemic, the Chinese leaders are more worried about the optics and are working overtime to muzzle every dissenting voice. Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a nonprofit organization with extensive contacts in China, has already tracked more than 300 cases of internet users who were penalized for sharing unofficial information on social media.
According to the New York Times, both the state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.
Internet platforms have removed a range of articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak. In a country where independent media barely exists, and where state media controls all narratives, paranoia and confusion is not surprising and this has been seen in Chinese chat rooms. However, the crackdown on communication with regards to the virus has made the country and the world highly reliant on China’s state media. This is why suspicions and anger are rapidly rising.
Citizen journalist Chen Qiushi has dared to travel to Wuhan and uncover the truth despite the threat of the Chinese Communist Party. Chen built his reputation by covering the Hong Kong protests in August. Though he was harassed and silenced by Chinese authorities after his trip to Hong Kong, he continued speaking out using Twitter and YouTube. In one of Chen’s videos, he expressed his worries about human-to-human transmission inside the hospital as all the patients shared the same ward. Chen noted that the hygiene outside the hospital was also pretty bad — used masks, gloves, and vomit were everywhere.
— Darren of Plymouth 🇬🇧 (@DarrenPlymouth) February 1, 2020
When Chen visited the Wuhan No 5 hospital, a nurse broke down and screamed out in the hospital car park as she was infected at the hospital but could not get a bed in any hospital. Rumours spread online saying that the hospital had a number of medical workers infected but doctors were ordered not to talk to media. Chen’s colleague and journalist Fang Bin secretly filmed 8 bodies in 5 minutes in 1 Wuhan hospital ward and he was immediately arrested the same night by the Chinese authorities. As apocalyptic videos emerge from Wuhan, online vitriol which had largely been directed at the local authorities is now being aimed at higher-level leadership, and there seems to be more of it overall.Journalists at the Xinhua news agency, for example, have been told to keep their coverage of the virus-positive, according to internal instructions seen by The New York Times. They were ordered not to continue mentioning the fact that the World Health Organization had declared a global health emergency and not to cover every infection discovered overseas.“Only cover what needs to be covered,” the instructions said.
The epidemic is likely to have a devastating impact on China’s ailing economy as countries across the world restrict travellers to and fro from China. Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based international airline, has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave. The carrier has already cut nearly all flights to and from mainland China and has said it would pare back flights across its network as it faces its biggest emergency since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. According to a Bloomberg report, as much as $140bn in spending during the Lunar New Year holidays was wiped out because of the outbreak. And one Chinese government economist said the outbreak could drag economic growth below 5 per cent.
The mysterious disappearance of Chen has only angered the locals as Xi Jinping appears to be losing his iron grip. In another video which has gone viral, a Chinese doctor can be seen claiming that around 49 crematories in Wuhan alone are working 24 hours and have already burned over 1200 bodies every day since the past 17 days. He then moves to reveal some shocking details as he claims that over 1.5 million people in China have contracted the deadly virus and over 50,000 have died.
Chinese Goverment is hiding the truth about #coronavirus deaths and confirmed cases are way more then they say..
— Coronavirus Live Updates (@Rntk____) February 9, 2020
As heart-wrenching videos emerge from Wuhan where entire societies have placed under quarantine, one can see a woman desperately asking for help on the balcony: “Help! My husband is dying. Someone, please help me! I can’t do anything!”, Wuhan is erupting against the Chinese government and in another video, people of Wuhan can be seen marching on the streets shouting and singing to boost morale.
Two journalists who covered the coronavirus are missing in China! Pray for their safety and the truth of the Chinese cover-up be exposed! @FreedomHKG @Stand_with_HK @Fight4HongKong @hk_watch @hkdc_us @HongKong #HK https://t.co/2nJnsZLpxO
— Rev. Patrick Mahoney (@revmahoney) February 9, 2020
This is a repost from Weibo.
Wuhan woman desperately asking for help on the balcony: Help! My husband is dying. Someone please help me! I can’t do anything! #coronavirus #Wuhan #coronaviruschina #ChinaVirus pic.twitter.com/YLwvNz4Lte
— Coronavirus Live Updates (@Rntk____) February 8, 2020
— Coronavirus Live Updates (@Rntk____) February 7, 2020
After the Hong Kong crisis, the coronavirus is the last blow that the Xi Jinping administration can take as, amid the anger and frustration, China’s most powerful governing body acknowledged earlier this week “shortcomings and difficulties” in its response to the crisis. Though it did not elaborate further, the statement was a rare admission of fault for the Politburo Standing Committee. The statement, some observers say, is testament to a growing worry among China’s top leaders of what the outbreak could mean for the country’s tightly controlled political system.
Experts believe that to prevent a coup, Xi Jinping can order a brutal crackdown and things can get far more paranoid than it has ever been. Steve Tsang, director of China Institute at SOAS University of London, predicts Xi will only impose tighter controls if public anger grew over the coronavirus crisis. “Anybody who would challenge Xi Jinping within the party will be crushed. They know that he is unforgiving.” It remains to be seen how Xi Jinping reacts to the political fallout of Coronavirus.