The Coronavirus outbreak that has infected 70,000 people and killed 1,700 of them could have been far less severe had it happened in a rights-respecting society.
Business Insider reported back in January that in the crucial early days of the virus’ appearance, local police in China arrested numerous people for spreading information about the virus online. Journalists from outside the country have been detained trying to document the situation in Wuhan. Local bloggers and citizens regularly go missing after trying to spread information on the outbreak. The recent death of Li Wenlian, a doctor who tried to sound the alarm early on and fought tirelessly to help its sufferers, has been the most harrowing example.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has followed events in China before. The horrific 2015 explosion in Tianjin that killed 173 people, itself a result of the lax safety standards that are all too common in a communist society, was hurriedly covered up, with journalists denied access and whistleblowers arrested. The same has happened throughout recent Chinese history right back to Tienanmen Square and before.
In the case of the Tianjin Explosion, this crackdown on the free exchange of information made it harder for the world to understand the circumstances that led to the accident and address the real failings that could prevent a re-occurrence. The case of Coronavirus is far more severe though.
The earliest stage of a viral outbreak is the most critical period to prevent an epidemic. The sooner the virus is isolated and identified, the sooner precautions against its spread can be taken. The sooner it’s understood, the more effective that containment will be. The first few days of a new virus’ emergence is the best time for the international medical community to come together and prevent a tragedy. Trying to cover it up at this point is the most foolhardy and counterproductive step a government can take.
China has heavily paid the price for this misstep now. The country’s economy has ground to a halt, flights and events are being cancelled, trade is being cut off strangling factories and businesses, and now the whole of East Asia faces a potential year of shutdown just as Tokyo gears up to host the Olympic Games.
In a country where the rights of individual citizens are put first, this would never have happened. Had this outbreak started in Europe or America, the world would have been aware immediately. Immediate precautions would have come into effect to protect citizens. China, however, is a state in which the image of the country is given priority over the rights and freedoms of real people. That ideology has led to the worst outcome for both.
China has of course made a public show of its efforts to fight the virus, with hospitals built almost overnight and streets sprayed with disinfectant. No amount of grand gestures can fix the original failing that led to this situation, however. China may have learnt a small lesson from previous incidents in coming clean with the world about the situation a few days into the outbreak, but it can’t escape the consequences of its myopic focus on national pride and identity and its wilful disregard for its own citizens’ lives.
States that deny individual rights will forever be at the risk of these kinds of incidents. A corrupt philosophy will always lead to the worst outcomes for everyone, no matter how much power, money or will is thrown at making them work. Already in 2020 this outbreak and the Iran airliner crash have demonstrated clearly what happens in a state that doesn’t treat its free citizens’ lives as the primary value behind everything it does.
How much more will need to happen before these countries learn that lesson? Perhaps the fallout from this outbreak will push things in a freer direction in China, but the fact that such a crippling disaster with so much fear, tragedy and heartbreak for untold millions of people is necessary to achieve that is the most damning reflection on the anti-life, anti-human nature of these systems.