The World Health Organization reported on February 22 that the Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has been reported in 29 countries. The global case count is over 77,000 cases with 98 percent of the cases found in China. Over 2,300 people have died from infection.
The case count increased dramatically on February 12 when Chinese public health authorities broadened the definition of a case from being based on laboratory confirmation of infection with COVID-19 to a clinical definition of anyone with the symptoms associated with the virus: fever, cough or shortness of breath.
This expanded definition of the disease conforms to past practices of infectious disease control. An article by the New York Times reads, “On Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general, praised that decision as ‘adding clarity’ and noted that the same approach was used in Ebola outbreaks, in which many people die without every case being laboratory tested.”
Public health practices implemented by the Chinese and other governments to contain the spread of the virus have continued to follow internationally accepted protocols of containment, treatment and eradication.
Chinese society mobilizes against COVID-19
The Chinese people and government have allocated human and material resources to fight the disease and minimize the unavoidable disruption to and difficulties of daily life that the quarantine measures have necessitated including the following:
- Over 20,000 medical workers from around China have been sent to Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak
- 2,600 medical personnel from the Peoples Liberation Army have been dispatched to work in the local hospitals to treat persons infected
- The China State Construction Engineering company undertook the rapid construction of two emergency quarantine hospitals in Wuhan
- The state-owned electrical company China State Grid announced that electricity would be ensured to Hubei residents during the quarantine regardless of their ability to pay
- A mobile app was developed and staffed by 2,000 physicians to provide free online doctor consultations to answer questions about the virus. The app received 118,000 visits in the first 4 days and answered 4,293 questions
- The Ministry of Commerce has ensured the flow of key products such as grain, meat, and eggs into Hubei province while coordinating production and distribution of masks and other medical products
- Chinese e-commerce platforms have forbidden price increases on n95 masks and other necessities
- The central government has promised subsidies to cover medical expenses for all coronavirus patients
Imperialist media demonization campaign
However, a review of headlines in the imperialist corporate-owned “free press” paint a picture of Chinese society in chaos, led by an inept government only concerned with its international image and suppressing any and all manifestations of frustration from the population. One of the more misleading stories that has appeared in big-business-controlled media like the Washington Post and the New York Times, as well as the “independent” National Public Radio is about Dr. Li Wenliang, a “whistleblower” doctor who died of the virus after being arrested and silenced by the Chinese authorities. In an article by KJ Noh appearing in CounterPunch and reprinted in Liberation News, Noh explains:
He [Dr. Li] didn’t notify the Chinese CDC or any public health organ. He did not notify the hospital authorities. He did not warn the public of wrongdoing, danger, or cover up. What he did do is share information with 7 school colleagues on 12/30 on a private messaging group…
Dr Li was not arrested… The doctor was called in, lightly reprimanded (talked to, and signed a document not to spread rumors) and went straight back to work. This begs the question, if a non-specialist (for example, a podiatrist) at a public General Hospital had claimed that there was an outbreak of infectious disease (for example, bubonic plague (and released HIPAA-protected documents (like Dr. Li did)), how credible is it that they would have escaped some sort of official sanction?
The imperialist media portrays the Chinese leadership as ineffective, secretive and withholding information from the public to the effect that their actions have amplified the impact of the epidemic. An article in the Washington Post articles accusing Xi Jinping of impeding the effort to fight the disease by suppressing information that prevented public health officials from taking action.
The Washington Post cites as a source an article written by the China Media Project, a group of pro-imperialist Hong Kong-based Chinese reporters. The CMP article, sarcastically entitled “The Truth About ‘Dramatic Action,’” charges the government with inaction for 40 days, while it knew about the virus. It contradicts itself by saying that from December 8 to the 23, “scientists in China were not in fact idle, but raced against the clock trying to trace the virus – and their performance was remarkable.”
By applying hindsight to any epidemic, it is possible to point to a delayed response that contributed to the impact of the crisis. The tone of this and similar articles implies there was information suppression and inaction by the Chinese local governments. However, the dismissal of local government and party officials for the initial handling of the epidemic and the transparency of action and information-sharing acknowledged by the World Health Organization stand in contrast to the story told in the imperialist print and electronic media and their anti-China supporters.
The rise of anti-Chinese racism
While the Chinese people and their government battle the virus and a imperialist-led disinformation campaign, the virus of anti-Chinese racism is another enemy they face. Stories proliferate the print and electronic media of racist signs and verbal abuse of Chinese people and other Asian people perceived as Chinese.
Around the world from Korea to Singapore to Japan to Italy, stores have signs that Chinese are not welcome. In Paris a Chinese restaurant was tagged with racist slogans blaming them for coronavirus. A Paris newspaper had overtly racist headlines of “Yellow Peril” and “Yellow alert” on articles reporting on the epidemic.
In Canada, a news reporter tweeted out an image of his Asian barber in a mask and said, “Hopefully all I got today was a haircut.” Appropriately, he was fired from his job.
Wikipedia has an entry entitled, “Xenophobia and racism related to the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak,” with multiple accounts from 26 countries.
In California high school students assaulted a classmate, accusing him of being infected. College students have tweeted racist messages about dropping classes that have too many Asians.
The racist practice of not recognizing the different Asian nations has resulted in a Vietnamese boy in a Los Angeles elementary school being sent to the nurse because he coughed from swallowing water while other students who were coughing were not. Upon his return, classmates teased him about having coronavirus.
Far more serious racist activities meant to target Chinese and other Asian people have happened. In Los Angeles, a flyer with a World Health Organization logo was posted in an area neighborhood telling people to avoid Asian American establishments to avoid being exposed to COVID-19.
Blaming a particular group of people for a medical crisis is not a new phenomena in the United States. The history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a historically recent example how the government and societal institutions were quick to first blame Africans, then Haitians and then when the epidemic disproportionately hit the queer community, gay men in particular had to face both the disease and violent anti-gay bigotry.
The best antidote to COVID-19 and to anti-Chinese racism is solidarity and public health practices to manage the epidemic. In Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the disease, residents have been shouting “Wuhan jiāyóu” meaning, “Wuhan, stay strong” in solidarity with each other and as encouragement to the public health workers in the streets combating the virus.