“They have been slow to manage the crisis, but quick to silence the people” is how a Chinese internet user recapped the attitude of the Wuhan town officials in the face of the situation created by the coronavirus epidemic, which continues to spread and increase in the number of human lives lost.
The first case was diagnosed on 12 December, but it wasn’t until the 31st of December that the local authorities confirmed it. Meanwhile, the Wuhan police had arrested and punished 8 persons for “publication of false information on the Internet”. Those eight people were doctors, one of whom died shortly later, after having treated patients who were infected by the virus. The police and Internet providers are still today cracking down on citizens who mention the measures taken against the epidemic. Journalists have been questioned and threaten by the authorities.
These hundreds of Communist Party apparatchiks who govern Wuhan and the Hubei province have tried to pretend that the situation is not serious, exposing their negligence to the light of day. The proof of this is that, having met from 7 to 17 January, they banned the major daily newspaper of Wuhan from headlining the epidemic on its front page. That meant that over a month was lost in efficiently fighting the infection. This neglect can only be called heinous when we see that once the State mobilised its means, two hospitals were built in barely two weeks.
So it was only on the 20th of January that the National Health Commission advised against entering or leaving Wuhan. The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO), for its part – and by its own admission – underestimated the danger and the necessary measures that needed to be taken, but condemned any constraints on travellers’ entering or leaving, on baggage, on cargos or containers and merchandise.
It is not surprising that the hospital workers of Hong Kong were called upon to strike at the beginning of this week, in the absence of stricter health measures: “If there is not a total closing of the borders, there will not be enough personnel, equipment for protection, or quarantine rooms to fight against the epidemic,” said one of the trade union leaders. Everyone remembers the 300 deaths in Hong Kong due to the SARS epidemic in 2003. In fact, the epidemic has already deprived employees of work in the service sector (hotels, restaurants, shops), transportation (trains, buses, taxis), and entertainment (theatres, cinemas, etc.), not only in Wuhan but also in the other major cities of China. The Beijing government has decided that the closing of most of the companies and factories of the country will extend up until 9 February, but Foxconn has announced that its 800,000 workers will not go back to work on iPhone production before mid-February. Hong Kong has already pushed back the return to schools and universities until 2 March. Of course, the population is greatly concerned that the situation will endure well beyond 9 February. A correspondent from Hong Kong has told us, “No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Anxiety and a feeling of helplessness prevail.”
So, what is to become of the millions of workers and young people? We are publishing some correspondence that we have received.
“The Wuhan economy is under heavy pressure”
(A worker’s account)
Here is an account received from Wuhan on Monday 3 February:
“Generally speaking, the city is almost at a standstill; business and activity are very limited. All the schools have put off courses, and each district’s board of education is discussing means for holding classes online (teleworking). I don’t think that the public transport workers will be fired in this situation, because it is a public system and the administrators don’t need to think in terms of the market. An official decree from the Wuhan Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security came out a few days ago, forbidding any dismissals linked to coronavirus infection, close contact with patients, or workers who cannot be present for work due to the quarantine. However, I don’t know if this will be applied. The Wuhan economy is under heavy pressure. Many companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector heavily dependent on manual labour and services, are facing financial difficulties.”
The Central Bank of China has announced that is will inject 156 billion euros into the financial system, in order to try to cope with this stoppage of activity, but all the decision-makers of the planet are worried, because the Chinese market, thanks to its low production costs, has become indispensible to many countries who are on the brink of an open economic crisis.
“My hometown of Wuhan decreed an unexpected quarantine at 2 o’clock in the morning on the 23rdof January”
(A student’s account)
Here is the account by a student at the end of January:
“The day before leaving for Wuhan, I received a message from my aunt: ‘Don’t come, the virus is spreading.’ Thinking of my parents who were anxious to see me after six years of separation, I nevertheless took my flight home as planned. I told myself that the situation seemed to be under control and I was only staying for 10 days, so it shouldn’t be such a big risk. Yet it turned out that I could not come back… Quarantine was unexpectedly decreed in my hometown of Wuhan on the 23rd of January at 2 o’clock in the morning, fearing the spread of a new type of coronavirus, both nationally and internationally. The city is one of the main air-traffic passenger hubs of China, with over 10 million inhabitants. Even without the migrant workers and university students (who tend to leave the town for family reunions), there are probably more than 7 million local residents who still remain in Wuhan during the Festival of Springtime this year. The day the quarantine was announced, all the public transportation of the city was closed, as well as the train stations, ports, motorways and airports. There were no trains, no ferries, no buses, no underground (subways) and of course no airplanes.
“(…) On the 24th, almost all the towns of my province announced quarantine. As at my writing of this article, on 25 January, the army has been mobilised and has blocked all the motorways around Wuhan. Our neighbouring province, Henan, has led a major campaign to track down Wuhan occupants and to prevent them from entering. I have seen a photo on the Internet of a Henan village destroying the road to the border. On the afternoon of 25 January, the city announced a total ban of circulation for private vehicles.
“Everyone is encouraged to remain at home and not to visit family or friends. Many restaurants have closed business during the holidays, as planned, except for those who want to make money during the holidays. No public gatherings are allowed (traditional parades, visits to temples, etc.) and places of entertainment (KTV, cinemas, theatres, etc.) have been forced to close.
“So I have been completely confined inside the town and I have no idea of when I will be able to go back to my studies. (…) There are so many people who I would like to see again, but the incubation of this new virus is like a sword of Damocles. The fact that I come from Wuhan makes people ill at ease. To be honest, this current situation is really awful.
“We were pleased to discover two supermarkets still open only a 30-minute walk away, so we probably won’t be short of masks, which is good news, as the town is short on essential medical supplies.
“I won’t go into a political analysis in this article. Quarantine is not a decision that has been lightly taken by the governments of Wuhan (municipal) and Hubei (provincial). It is rare to obtain an optimal level in extreme measures. The inhabitants of Wuhan have made great sacrifices in order to contain the virus, actively or passively. It is sure that, outside the city, they have been temporarily retained in hotels, at their parents’ or relatives’ homes or with their friends.”