Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, a blind scholar and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who escaped from house arrest and found asylum with the United States in 2012, wrote about China’s authoritarian response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak at the Washington Post last week.
One of the charges he leveled in the article is that people suspected of infection in Wuhan are being welded into their homes by the authorities, their doors and windows sealed with metal bars so they cannot escape.
Chen, who is now on the faculty at Catholic University of America and a senior fellow in human rights at the Witherspoon Institute, argued that the coronavirus is proving just how dangerous authoritarianism can be, since Beijing’s immediate response to the problem — once it emerged from a disastrous month of pretending it did not have a problem at all — was to essentially toss 50 million people in prison by locking down Wuhan and the surrounding province:
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.
At just about the same moment Chen Guangcheng was writing those words, one of the citizen journalists he saluted for bravery, Chen Quishi, was thrown into “quarantine” and has been held incommunicado ever since.
Chen Guangcheng backed up his story of Communist Party officials welding doors shut with videos posted online from Wuhan. The U.K. Sun published a collection of photos and videos depicting the welding practice on Sunday, under the characteristically sensationalist headline “SEALED IN VIRUS TOMB!”
The Sun did not authenticate any of these videos. The Sun cited speculation from human rights activists that some of these home barricades are the work of frightened civilian mobs, rather than the Chinese government.
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Chen returned several times to his theme of China constructing a prison state to restrain the coronavirus, noting that even the Chinese Communist Party’s much-touted new hospitals resemble detention centers as much as medical facilities, and mostly for show at that since their total capacity is a mere fraction of the new beds China desperately needs.
Chen is one of the highest-profile critics to assert that China’s widely-reported shortage of test kits for the coronavirus could be a shortage created deliberately to undercount the number of fatalities. He referenced stories about officials in Wuhan stealing Red Cross donations as supplies run short, leading to soaring prices for protective gear and even lottery drawings for facemasks.
“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,” he concluded.
There is no mention of doors welded shut, supplies hoarded by panicked officials, or critical shortages of treatment in Chinese media’s treatment of the coronavirus outbreak. A pictorial feature published by the state-run Xinhua news service on Monday focused on people in Wuhan helping each other out, with a heavy emphasis on those giving away free vegetables.
Wuhan looks like a deserted city from a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film in aerial photos, but Xinhua strove to make it look as though life was almost back to normal, albeit with everyone wearing surgical masks and “volunteers” using electronic thermometers to spot-check residents for fevers.
Xinhua assured its readers that Wuhan officials are “combing communities to ensure every confirmed or suspected patient is located and attended to.” One of the most highly visible signs of the Chinese government doing battle with the virus is a weird attempt to disinfect entire cities by driving through them with huge sprayer trucks full of bleach.
“Health experts say these public displays of germ-busting are probably not doing much to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and that the disinfection should instead target specific spots, like emergency rooms, and communal surfaces in hospitals, where more coronavirus germs are likely to get swapped around,” Business Insider noted, citing experts who worried the theatrical “bleach cannon” campaign could divert resources from more productive methods of prevention and treatment.