ISSUES

How the Coronavirus Spreads: Government Failure and "Incompetence"

Lies and cover-ups resulted in failed containment.

As the number of coronavirus cases worldwide rises to nearly 80,000, experts say the renamed COVID-19 is "almost certainly going to be a pandemic," with some saying it already is "in all but name."

But public information about the latest coronavirus, which describes a group of viruses that have crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus, has disseminated slowly considering the novelty of COVID-19. While coronaviruses are common and include SARS and MERS, they commonly cause mild to moderate respiratory infections similar to the common cold. However, COVID-19 is a new form that has caused serious respiratory illness in individuals with compromised immune systems, killing over 2,100 individuals worldwide. That's more than twice the number of deaths caused by SARS and MERS combined.

In China, where the virus originated and the vast majority of cases and nearly all of the casualties have taken place, the government has gone from being commended by the World Health Organization for their swift response to the disease to vilified by the international health community. Despite the government enforcing strict quarantines, the virus has continued to spread. What mistakes were made?

First, the Chinese government's strict media censorship resulted in Chinese citizens remaining unaware of the virus weeks after the government shared the information with the international community. Government officials not only limited the spread of information but downplayed the severity of the virus and its ability to spread from person to person. Writer Youyou Zhou of Quartz details how the doctor who first tried to warn the global community about the dangers of the virus, the late Dr. Li Wenliang, received a warning letter from the Wuhan police. Dr. Wenliang was one of eight doctors who were "reprimanded for [their] illegal activity of publishing false information online." He was forced to sign a statement that admitted he had violated the law and "seriously disrupted social order."

Zhou concludes, "The delayed information disclosure by the government combined with the population migration during the lunar new year caused the virus to spread quickly all over China. By Feb. 13, 1,383 have died from the virus around the world, and all except three took place within mainland China. On the same day, Beijing replaced the top officials of Wuhan and Hubei province with new party officials to contain the outbreak."

Second, when Dr. Wenliang himself was tested to have contracted the virus on January 11, officials should have publicly confirmed that the virus could be transferred from person to person. Instead, they issued straightforward denials that there was "no proof" that human transmission was possible. The Wuhan Health Commission only admitted how quickly the disease was spreading and its severity when confronted with irrefutable proof, with inconsistent numbers given in multiple reprots.

Third, when Dr. Wenliang, age 34, died on February 7 in Wuhan, the Chinese government took steps to suppress news of his death. Once word spread, the Chinese public grieved and expressed widespread frustration and anger at the government's censorship, which had proven to cost people's lives. On China's social media app Weibo, "We want free speech" trended with almost 2 million views before being censored.

Ultimately, the Chinese government's authoritarian censorship, cover-ups, and direct lies to the public resulted in failed containment of the coronavirus at the very outset. Global concerns about the virus have intensified due to doubts about the accuracy of the data released by the Chinese government.

But other global agencies are also being placed under intense scrutiny in regards to their response to the coronavirus. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been criticized for waiting to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.

Now, with a global pandemic "almost certain," government lies and cover ups have irrefutably resulted in an international health risk that may have been preventable if the Chinese government had practiced transparency and put human lives above party lines.

ISSUES

Coronavirus Vs. the Flu: The Coronavirus Isn't a Big Deal (Yet)

This year's flu virus is still slated to be a bigger threat.

It's believed that Chinese officials have not exactly been forthcoming about the true extent and severity of the coronavirus, a respiratory illness whose death toll in mainland China has now exceeded that of S.A.R.S. The Chinese foreign ministry has criticized the U.S.'s response of temporarily banning foreign individuals who had traveled in China from entering the country. Chinese officials initially said that U.S. health officials "inappropriately overreacted" and spread unnecessary fear. However, on Monday (February 3) China's elite Politburo Standing Committee admitted that there were "shortcomings and difficulties in the response to the epidemic," according to China's Xinhua news agency. The government said it "urgently" needed medical supplies, such as protective suits and masks.


When the World Health Organization (W.H.O) declared the virus a "public health emergency of international concern," they said its organization "continues to have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak." They stated that their concern is about the virus' potential to reach countries with poor health care. In such an environment, the disease could spread rapidly, "infecting millions of people and killing thousands," according to The New York Times.

With over 20,000 cases reported in China and 170 more reported in over 25 other countries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) has been rapidly updating their findings on the respiratory disease. 11 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. (including 3 in California, 2 in Illinois, 1 in Arizona, 1 in Massachusetts, and 1 in Washington). More cases are currently under review. As of this writing, three New York cases have been sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Laboratory in Atlanta, which is currently the only facility that can confirm a case of coronavirus. The New York City health commissioner has called the virus's presence in the city "inevitable."

But what does that really mean?

The coronavirus is distinct in a few ways, originating in animals in Wuhan, China but demonstrating the ability to spread from person to person once someone is infected. Symptoms present as common flu symptoms, including fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, aching muscles, and fatigue. There have been indications to suggest that individuals infected with the coronavirus are contagious before they show symptoms, but that has not been widely confirmed.

Out of over 20,000 confirmed cases spread across more than two dozen countries, there have been fewer than 500 deaths, with two deaths occurring outside of China so far. Most people infected have been elderly or those with compromised immune systems, and there have been full recoveries from the virus.

In fact, the first American patient confirmed to have the coronavirus has been released from the hospital and is staying in isolation in his home. "I am at home and continuing to get better," the nameless man said in a statement, "I ask that the media please respect my privacy and my desire not to be in the public eye. I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and entire team at Providence who cared for me. I appreciate all of the concern expressed by members of the public, and I look forward to returning to my normal life."

The flu is more dangerous.

Meanwhile, public health officials underline that the coronavirus presents a low health risk to Americans. More dangerous is influenza B, or the common flu. The C.D.C. reports that 68 children have died of the flu this year, along with an estimated 10,000 adults! Todd Ellerin, the director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health in Massachusetts, told Mother Jones that the flu is "massively outstripping" the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. He added in a a blog post for Harvard Medical School, "In the US, the average person is at extremely low risk of catching this novel coronavirus. This winter, in fact, we are much more likely to get influenza B—the flu—than any other virus: one in 10 people have influenza each flu season."

POLITICS

Protests in Chile Should Serve as a Model for American Activists

We must look at the mass actions that are making life difficult for the powerful in Chile and Lebanon and Hong Kong, and prepare ourselves to make the same kind of trouble at home.

With all the global significance connected to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, many people don't realize that September 11th has a very different set of meanings in Chile.

allende's glasses sculpture A memorial depicting Allende's broken glasses in the aftermath of the coup

On that day in 1973, the United States backed a coup that killed Chile's democratic socialist president, Salvador Allende, ushering in the brutal era of Pinochet. Chile has never fully recovered from the violence of that period, nor the sudden shift in economic policy that followed. For many Chileans, it has been hard to imagine a world in which the leadership could work for them, rather than the global elite. But now the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso are being taken over by thousands of protesters who've been unwilling to accept piecemeal concessions from President Sebastian Pinera.

So far many of these protests have been peaceful, but there have been instances of arson and of violent clashes between protesters and security forces. At least 20 have already died, but the activists there are not giving up. They are relentless, and they are only interested in substantive change—a fundamental restructuring of the Chilean Government to serve the working people. They want Pinera to resign, and they are calling for changes to the Chilean constitution.

Al Jazeera

For Americans, this kind of protest remains out of the question. Protest in America does not exist to be disruptive or to force action. It only serves as a salve for our powerlessness.

American protest is sanctioned by the system and restricted to its proper time and place. It makes the protesters feel better for a time—makes them feel seen, like they're a part of something—and maybe it raises some awareness for a cause or inspires some phone calls to congress. And if it attempts to do more, it is met with swift and violent crackdowns. It does not—cannot—break down the country's normal functions.

Christian Science Monitor

But what if the normal functions no longer work for the people? What if the interests that led the United States to back coups against Socialist leaders are also fueling mass propaganda campaigns against grass roots movements at home? What if they're defending those in power from the normal avenues of accountability?

The American media has a tight focus right now on the rapidly developing impeachment proceedings, and that makes sense. There is new information coming out of those efforts on a near daily basis, and there is a significant precedent for this kind of procedure to effect change. But it remains to be seen whether all this new evidence will survive the spin and propaganda from the likes of Fox News and One America News. We should not place our faith purely in the institutions of power to regulate power. To achieve anything for the people, the institutions of power must be afraid of the alternative.

AFP/Getty Images

We must look at the mass actions that are making life difficult for the powerful in Chile and Lebanon and Hong Kong, and prepare ourselves to make the same kind of trouble at home. Even if Trump is forced out of office and the Democrats choose a progressive nominee and the 2020 election fully flips control to the Democrats, the fight will only be getting started. The interests and forces that killed Salvador Allende in Chile will still be doing everything in their power to protect the status quo. We must be willing to upend the normal order if we want to produce real change.

WORLD

What Are the Hong Kong Protests About and Why Should You Care?

Citizens are protesting a bill that would undermine their freedom and subject them to mainland China's draconian judicial system.

Thousands of protestors stormed Hong Kong's government headquarters, taking control of a legislative building for hours before being attacked with tear gas and dispersed by riot police. Inside the legislative building's main chamber, the activists, mostly young people, hung banners reading: "There's no rioters, there's only tyranny" and "There is no way left." Their stand is the culmination of mounting tensions over a bill that would allow mainland China to extradite citizens of Hong Kong in order to face the draconian Chinese judicial system.

"But isn't Hong Kong part of China already?" you might be wondering. Yes, but not exactly.

One Country, Two Systems

one country two systems Shutterstock

Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom. Upon its return to Chinese sovereignty, China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a treaty that decreed: "The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years."

Essentially, this agreement mandates that while Hong Kong will be a part of mainland China, it will still enjoy a high degree of autonomy, including its own legal, legislative, and economic systems––at least until 2047. After that, nobody is really sure what will happen. That uncertainty, especially regarding fear over loss of freedom, has lead to a high degree of pro-independence sentiment amongst youth in Hong Kong.

The 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill

hong kong extradition bill ©Reuters

Otherwise known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, this bill proposed in February by the Hong Kong government would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to face trial in Taiwan, Macau, or mainland China. This means that, hypothetically, a Hong Kong citizen accused of dissonance against the mainland Chinese government could be whisked away to face criminal trial in mainland China, where such offenses can carry harsh penalties including execution.

Many Hong Kong citizens have rightfully derided the bill as a means of undermining their freedom and giving mainland China a legal means to prosecute them and other international people for perceived political slights. Authorities in Taipei have rejected the bill on similar grounds.

The Protests

hong kong protests Channel4000


On March 30th, amidst widespread, vocal calls from both the Hong Kong populace and the international community to discard the bill, the Hong Kong government rolled out amendments to the bill. This did not satisfy the Hong Kong populace, which overwhelmingly supported a full removal, so on June 9th they took to the streets, nearly 300,000 strong.

In opposition to the voices of its people, Hong Kong refused to withdraw the bill. Then, on June 12th the protests turned violent. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters were not dissuaded, turning out again on June 16th, nearly 2 million strong.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam relented two days later, apologizing for "the deficiencies of the (Hong Kong) government" and tabling the bill until further notice. Her actions came too little too late and were deemed as insufficient by the populace––they did not want the bill tabled—they wanted it discarded completely, along with Lam's resignation.

Without proper resolution, the protests have continued to escalate. According to CNN, the protesters currently have five demands: "They want a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an investigation of police brutality, retraction of the characterization of the protests as riots, the release of arrested protesters, and leader Carrie Lam to step down."

Why You Should Care

Governments work for their people––not the other way around. A government that fails to properly represent its people should be subject to the full force of its people. The Hong Kong protests serve as a necessary example of this force in action.

When the government does not listen to petitions and condemnations, people need to take to the streets in protest. When the government does not listen to protest, people need to rally together and confront their government head-on, by whatever means necessary. To be clear, a government that does not represent its people is a tyranny, and nobody who values their own freedoms should ever allow themselves to be ruled by tyrants.

While the situation in Hong Kong continues to develop, and while the police have brutalized the protestors on an ongoing basis, the protestors have risen again and again. Slowly but surely, their rage has lead to government action. The whole world is watching to see what happens next, but it's important to realize that these protests don't exist in a bubble. The same tactics that work in Hong Kong will work anywhere else in the world, as long as people turn out in large enough numbers. Peaceful protest is great when the government is willing to listen, but "no" is not an acceptable answer.