China: Is it doing enough to control the coronavirus?
To stem the new coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government has “established a strong defense network against the invisible enemy,” said the Global Times (China) in an editorial. The respiratory illness has killed more than 420 people in China and infected some 20,000 others so far, but thanks to the nation’s extraordinary efforts, “the speed of the virus’ spread seems to have stabilized.” In the central Chinese city of Wuhan—the disease’s epicenter—thousands of construction workers labored around the clock to build a 1,000-bed hospital in just 10 days. Some 1,400 military medics are now treating patients there. Wuhan and its 11 million residents have been placed under a strict quarantine, and most other cities have taken action to bar nonresidents from entering. Chinese people are sensibly avoiding restaurants and other gathering places to avoid infection, and all citizens’ health and travel records are being “made known to their neighbors or colleagues.” This disaster has demonstrated “China’s astonishing mobilization ability and solidarity.”
It has also revealed the system’s weakness, said Andy Xie in the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post (China). Yes, the Communist Party can mobilize quickly and massively, but in the early stages of the outbreak, its “top-down” hierarchical structure discouraged decisive action. If a local official in Wuhan had quickly banned crowds and quarantined anyone who’d been in contact with an infected patient, “the coronavirus crisis might not have happened.” But then that official would also have been condemned by superiors for disrupting the economy and spoiling the spring festival celebrations. Still, this disease is forcing China into a new openness, said Friederike Böge in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). The first doctor to post about the new illness in December, Li Wenliang, “was summoned and interrogated in the middle of the night” and told to stop spreading rumors. Instead, the ophthalmologist published those threats from police, and now, as he updates the world from his hospital bed—he, too, contracted the virus—Li is being hailed as China’s “new hero.”
Online rumors are complicating the fight, said Alice Wu in the South China Morning Post. “Panic shopping and hoarding” has spread across the country as people crowd into stores to stock up on food and face masks, despite authorities’ admonitions to stay home. Abroad, racism against anyone who looks Chinese is on the rise. In Sri Lanka, Singaporean tourists were banned from a popular hiking spot; in Indonesia, locals marched on a hotel and demanded that Chinese guests leave; in Canada, parents urged that schoolchildren from China be quarantined. The fear is understandable, said Andrio Adiwibowo in The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), because it “may be too late” to stop a global pandemic. Within China, the number of infected people is still on the rise, while “outside China, a new case has been confirmed almost every day in 14 countries.” All we can do is bolster our own defenses “against not only the coronavirus but also other viruses that may strike in the future.” ■