A true man-made disasterThe death toll of the new strain of coronavirus has topped 1,000 in China, exceeding the 648 deaths in China and 774 worldwide from the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. The death count could continue to rise as more than 3,000 people are critically ill.
A recent study shows that the fatality rate of the new virus is 0.3 to 0.6 percent, significantly lower than the previously suspected 4 percent. Most of the deaths came from Wuhan — the epicenter of the new virus — in China’s Hubei Province. The finding suggests lives could have been saved if the government had responded swiftly instead of trying to hide the information.
The biggest blame should go to the authorities of the city and province. Foreign media is also finding fault with Beijing and President Xi Jinping. Under Xi, who has cemented his leadership through rewriting China’s constitution, China has become more rigid. The result is the catastrophe of the lethal coronavirus.
After SARS, China westernized its quarantine and disease control system. But organizational structure has become more bureaucratic and strict. On Dec. 30 last year, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in a hospital in Wuhan, alerted fellow doctors of a SARS-like disease. But instead of taking action, authorities arrested him for spreading “false rumors” and forced him to promise not to speak out.
If they had only paid heed to what the doctor warned, such disastrous consequences could have been avoided. People were dying and yet Beijing was preoccupied with lobbying at the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent bad publicity. As a result, the virus has nearly turned into a pandemic.
China’s population topped 1.4 billion last year and the per capita income reached over $10,000. Xi has been pursuing the “China dream” or a renaissance of China through its unique blend of socialism and capitalism. But intellectuals are cynical.
The limitations of the Chinese system have been bared through its sloppy way of coping with an epidemic. China’s problems are no longer restricted to the country. Censorship and oppression of freedom of speech and the press causes damage to countries around the globe as well.
China must open up as it did during the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo. It must allow free speech by the public and the press.
That is the only way to restore its reputation.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 30