Confronted with the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, the CCP has instinctively reverted to its familiar tool kit: It immediately staged a large-scale lockdown of people and information at the expense of the public good.
You don’t have to believe me. See for yourself.
All you need to do is look at the images and words of brave citizens in Wuhan who have responded by passing on firsthand information about the epidemic to their compatriots and the outside world. They are doing this at great risk to themselves. They know they potentially face reprisal for the heroic act of simply sharing the truth.
Videos shot by brave locals over the past weekend — especially by the citizen journalists Fang Bing and Chen Qiushi — are revealing. Bodies lie in the street or are being carried out of homes. A van holding eight body bags waits to transport the dead from the hospital to a crematorium. Lines of people snake through hospital wards awaiting testing and registration, each cough in the crowd eliciting an unconscious flinch. Dozens of others sit in a waiting room, hooked up to IV bags dangling incongruously from the ceiling like jellyfish floating in an aquarium.
We hear the sobs of people standing over dying parents and loved ones lying lifeless on gurneys. People lean against the walls or lie in hallways, the dead lying on stretchers beside them covered with flowered comforters brought from home. Health-care workers all wear full hazmat suits, while regular people move in and out of hospitals protected only by paper face masks, all hiding behind a muffled anonymity. An eerie silence pervades, as though speech itself will spread the disease further.
You don’t have to look far to find the signs of a typically authoritarian response to the crisis. CCP officials weld doors shut to prevent those who have fallen ill from leaving their homes. Hospitals and clinics turn people away because they can’t pay (despite official promises of free care), returning home to attend to themselves and their families or to succumb to the illness alone. And without approved diagnoses, these deaths will not be counted in official CCP statistics about the new disease.
A virtual state of emergency holds across the country. Security forces have blocked village entryways. Guards stationed at checkpoints verify the health status of residents before they’re allowed to enter. Often, residents themselves are not permitted to leave the area; even the most remote places are not exempt. How people can survive is anyone’s guess.
Medical supplies, including protective clothing and masks, are in short supply. Reports describe how donations to the Red Cross in Wuhan were not distributed, while officials funneled off what they chose for their own benefit. The lockdown is ratcheting up the price for goods. A pack of 10 face masks, for instance, typically sells for around 3.7 yuan (about 50 cents). Now, a single mask costs 30 yuan (more than $4). In the southern city of Guangzhou, masks are only available by lottery.
The CCP has made a huge fuss over its construction in 10 days of a new hospital aimed at combating the virus (promising 1,000 new beds after well over 20,000 people have been reported infected). Yet the building has been described by some as resembling a prison, with slits in the doors, locks only on the outside and bars on the windows. This sort of project is typical of the regime, which desperately needs to show that it can act in response to a fast-moving and invisible threat. The government is already bringing foreign journalists to the hospital to show it off. Locals see it simply as a new facility for current patients already lucky enough to have a spot in a hospital.
For the 70-plus years of its power, the CCP has perfected the art of grand sweeping gestures aimed at demonstrating both its control of the population and a superficial sense of solidarity. In some ways, therefore, the party’s handling of the Wuhan virus exemplifies its tendency to produce huge, self-aggrandizing projects that have little positive impact on the ground. Barricading Wuhan after 5 million residents have already left and building hospitals in record time, while sending people home for lack of funds, fit this pattern all too well.
I have long said the Chinese Communist Party is a threat to humanity. Now, with the outbreak spreading from Wuhan to the far reaches of the globe, the regime has again proved itself a danger to civilization. It has succeeded in turning a public health crisis into a human rights catastrophe. The first victims are always the Chinese people themselves, but the rest of the world will pay a price for the CCP’s habits as well. For those who are hoping to live in a civilized world, this epidemic has shown that while authoritarianism remains, humanity will not live in peace.
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