By Harold Rook
Hey, everyone, it’s Harry, and I…huauh…HUUURAGH *splattering*! *Sniff* Damn it, it’s everywhere! Anyway, I’m…huauh…sick as hell…probably the *cough* sickest I’ve been in a long time. And I know exactly what’s wrong with me! I must have contracted *cough* the modern-day Bubonic Plague. Of course, I’m talking about *sniff* the terror, the microbial grim reaper, a killer so terrifying it has gripped the world with fear! It’s the…huauh…coronavirus…HUUURAGH *splattering*! Ugh, not the keyboard! It’ll take weeks to get rid of the smell! Puke notwithstanding, symptoms of the coronavirus at first appear to be just like any other bad cold: fever, sinus infection, and a sore throat, signs that we are all familiar with. But then it gets worse, with patients developing shortness of breath before the virus travels to the *cough* respiratory system, leading to pneumonia and potentially death. And I’m the lucky loser to catch a virus that has closed off entire cities in China, the origin of this outbreak. How could this have happened? How can a virus spread to such an extent? How could China, the benevolent world leader pushing us into the future, not have stopped the virus in its tracks before yours truly got infected? And how is the United States responding? Well *cough*, the only way to truly know is for me to tough it out and retell the story of this plague. Put on your hazmat suits, everyone, because we are going to the epicenter of the outbreak: Wuhan, China.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the origin for the disease was first linked to a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China. Here, the CDC theorizes, the virus spread from the animals being sold to humans, possibly through contact with infected snakes or bats. After initial cases of infection, reports of the coronavirus spreading via human to human contact outside the vicinity of the marketplace became increasingly prevalent. This, along with the highly virulent nature of the virus (SARS-CoV-2), only inflating the number of reported cases, with nearly 291 patients in China admitted for the virus by January 20th, according to Reuters. By January 30th, cases of the virus spread through indirect contact appear in the United States, Japan, and Germany, leading to the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak a Global Public Health Emergency the very same day. Over a period of three to four weeks, reported cases have spread to Italy, Iran, South Korea, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. As of February 24, 2020, there have been over 79,000 reported cases of the coronavirus, with 96.7% of all cases coming from China. Proportional to this, the virus has resulted in 2,593 deaths in China, overtaking previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS on sheer volume.
So how did it get this bad? Surely, one would expect the Chinese government to take cautious measures in limiting the number of cases. By enacting reasonable health protocol and demonstrating a professional attitude, the Chinese Communist Party could set an example as a leader in promoting global health, and show that they care about their own people. After all, why wouldn’t they do that? Enter: Dr. Li Wenliang. As well as being an ophthalmologist and well respected by his colleagues, Dr. Li had also been working at the Wuhan Central Hospital upon the start of the outbreak. Upon noticing that several of his patients appeared to be showing signs of pneumonia and respiratory failure, Dr. Li suspected a possible SARs coronavirus that caused similar symptoms in 2003. Subsequent testing and confirmation of a coronavirus being the main culprit led Dr. Li to post his findings on a WeChat messaging board, unknowingly being one of the first to determine that the outbreak was due to a new coronavirus on December 30th, 2019. When word of this important discovery got out, how do you think Chinese officials responded? Surely, they would thank Dr. Li for his important contribution to public health and use his findings to properly respond to incoming cases. Imagine if officials, upon learning of his warnings on WeChat, summoned Dr. Li before the Public Security Bureau and charged him with making “false comments.” Crazy, right? Except…this happened. Not only did Dr. Li have to sign a letter claiming he disrupted the social order, not only did Chinese authorities arrest eight doctors on the same message board, and not only did authorities attempt to minimize his findings by claiming that the virus could not spread via human to human contact, but Dr. Li would later get infected by the very same virus he tried to warn the Chinese public about. Later succumbing to the disease, one of his last statements to the public encapsulates the situation: “There should be more than one voice in a healthy society.”
It should be no surprise then that, upon learning of the true severity of the outbreak, the local officials that attempted to suppress Dr. Li’s discovery were promptly condemned by the public and even government agencies. However, while initial reports of the virus were concealed, the overall narrative by Chinese officials of this being contained to the marketplace and not transmitted by human to human contact seemed to be accurate. It even appeared that China was gaining credit from the international community; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), praised China’s “transparency,” stating that their handling of the situation deserved “gratitude and respect.” That sounds like quite the appraisal! Who could doubt the WHO, who’s second largest donor is Beijing? And Director-General Ghebreyesus is just the person to give this glowing review! I mean, sure, Ghebreyesus was part of the Tigray’s People Liberation Front, a Marxist-Leninist political party in Ethiopia that shares many of the same core ideology as the Chinese Communist Party. And yes, Ethiopia and China are partnered in the Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project meant to revive ancient trade routes. But this means nothing! Obviously, the appraisal by WHO of China’s response is completely genuine and may not have any underlying motive.
The resulting response by the Chinese Communist Party to the outbreak has been heavy-handed; citizens of Wuhan, the metropolitan center for the coronavirus, have been completely quarantined within the city. While a quarantine might seem like a good idea, halting the virus’s spread through limited contact with the healthy, in practice how the Chinese government acted was disastrous. All citizens within the city, healthy or not, are quarantined within Wuhan. Yet this is ironically a dangerous motion; by isolating healthy citizens with the sick, this quarantine effectively traps the entire population of Wuhan, exacerbating the rate of infection. However, the measure that is most malign by Xi Jinping’s government was a self-described “people’s war.” Sharing parallels with the Cultural Revolution, the “people’s war” encompasses a series of expectations set by the Chinese Communist Party for the average citizen: creation of impromptu quarantine camps, turning in sick neighbors to the authorities, and door-to-door searches for people with even the slightest signs of what could be the coronavirus. The problem with these actions, on top of the violation of human rights, is that instead of encouraging people to come forward if they feel ill, it creates an environment of terror, with citizens staying home in fear of their own government.
With China paralyzed in its attempts to deal with SARS-CoV-2, this raises one question: what are we doing? As of the time writing this, fifteen people within the United States have been confirmed to have the virus, with the CDC determining that twelve of these cases are from patients who’ve traveled to Wuhan. Although this indicates that person-to-person contagion has been limited, the fear surrounding the coronavirus has nevertheless reverberated throughout the United States, with the sudden decline in the stock market and Vice President Mike Pence taking charge of the coronavirus response highlighting this. The current CDC plan of action has been focused primarily on travelers that are being flown to the United States: planes with travelers from Wuhan to California are first flown to Alaska, where they are screened by the CDC. Upon confirming travelers being uninfected, passengers are flown to their destination, with those with the virus being put in quarantine. Nevertheless, the CDC reports that the odds of contracting the coronavirus for the majority of Americans is relatively low.
So, the panic over this sudden epidemic is certainly justified. The incompetence displayed by China has been detrimental to stopping the epidemic. The immediate attempts at covering up the coronavirus also seems suspicious, almost like local officials were hiding something. I’m just going to put on a tin-foil hat for a minute and mention a quick conspiracy: apparently, within the vicinity of the Wuhan marketplace, there is a bioresearch lab. And, allegedly, the lab specialized in microbiological research, including viruses. This may mean, according to proponents of this theory, that SARS-CoV-2 was a bioweapon. Now, I wouldn’t propose a conspiracy theory without absolute confirmation that this is true, yet the initial cover up makes me wonder. So, to avoid giving you all misinformation, all I’ll say is this: hmmm…INTERESTING. Anyway…huauh…the coronavirus can be *cough* seen as a case study for how the Chinese government operates. Attempted coverups, reckless quarantines, and *cough* a “people’s war” illustrates the top-down perspective of a government that has no concept for basic human rights. Rightfully, the nature of this outbreak should *cough* be taken seriously, however rare the chances of getting infected may be. As for me…I…huauh…only have myself to blame, really…huauh…why’d I have to drink all those Coronas? Should have…huauh…stuck with Guinness…huauh…HUURAGH *splattering*!