The Woe of Wuhan

The intersection of fear, public health, and authoritarianism.

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Should one have ever doubted the authoritarian ambitions of the People’s Republic of China, look no further than Saturday, March 17, 2018. It is nigh two years since Xi Jinping’s ever-loyal Communist parliament unanimously re-elected him as president, and, on the following day, that same Communist parliament voted for the removal of presidential term limits; the latter event seemingly went unnoticed by the American people. And that’s how one acquires the power to essentially shut down thirteen heavily populated cities, flagrantly violating the civil liberties, if there ever was such a thing in the People’s Republic, of over sixty million inhabitants for the greater good. I am reminded of a proverb concerning thoroughfares and hellfire, though I suspect the People’s Leader, in his great scientific wisdom, has everything but good intentions on his mind.

(I have made clear my opinions about the authoritarian nature of government-mandated quarantine and isolation measures. Little has changed in the intervening years.)

Public health officials posit the coronavirus likely originated from a seafood market in Wuhan, a sprawling megalopolis in Central China (nicknamed the “Chicago of China“) that is home to over eleven million people. Watching a teacher roam the streets of a quarantined Wuhan elicits terrifying memories of playing Silent Hill… in the dark.

To grasp the scope of this unprecedented quarantine undertaking, imagine a particularly contagious infection broke out in one of the five boroughs of New York City. This affliction causes the Governor and the Mayor to hold a press conference in which they insist city dwellers remain within the boroughs and advise against travelers coming into the boroughs. Imagine that the very next day, the Governor and Mayor, through some emergency powers hitherto undreamt of, shut down all forms of transport entering and leaving the five boroughs. Imagine this day is New Year’s Eve. Furthermore, imagine this quarantine expands in the following days to include most of the Eastern Seaboard, as far west as Pittsburgh, as far south as Washington, D.C., and as far north as Boston.

Something akin to what I just described is currently happening to Wuhan and its neighbors. And my scenario is several million people short!

Several days ago, President Trump thanked—via tweet—President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government for their “efforts and transparency” in combating the coronavirus. The People’s Leader publically reiterated his country’s commitment to transparency and responsibility on Tuesday, adding that the “epidemic is a devil. We cannot let the devil hide.” Based on the current rate of infection, President Xi Jinping can rest assured that the “devil” isn’t hiding. And I cannot fathom what either president means by transparency when The Washington Post has reported allegations made by HHS officials that China is underreporting the number of coronavirus cases.

As of this writing, there are five confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. I’m not one to panic in the face of microbial adversaries. Yet, there is something unctuous about public health officials in Hong Kong claiming no evidence of widespread outbreak exists when the number of individuals infected with the Wuhan coronavirus will likely surpass the number of infected during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. This is the same Hong Kong whose Chief Executive used her emergency power to ban face masks in October amid roiling protests, a move which looks rather fatuous in retrospect. I cannot make suggestions which the CDC or WHO haven’t already made regarding prophylactic measures against these new wee-beasties. Nor will I be as condescending as one particular opinion writer for The New York Times who admonishes her readers to wash their hands. I’ll just depart with: Happy Lunar New Year!

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