EghtesadOnline: China is struggling to contain rising public anger over its response to a spreading coronavirus even as it took unprecedented steps to slow the outbreak, restricting travel for 30 million people on the eve of Lunar New Year. The turmoil comes as the virus is proving more difficult to contain than other pandemics, stymieing efforts to track infected patients before they travel, Bloomberg reported.
While the death toll continues to rise -- and now includes someone as young as 36 -- some infected patients aren’t showing a fever, a symptom governments around the world have been using to screen for the pathogen. The pressure is rising on China as it tries to come to grips with a disease that some fear could rival SARS, which 17 years ago claimed almost 800 lives. While global experts have mostly praised efforts to contain the virus, Chinese citizens are increasingly critical and anxious as travel restrictions grew to encompass a population bigger than Australia, according to Financial Tribune.
“This is unprecedented in China, and maybe even in the history of modern health,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, of the travel restrictions placed on 10 cities. “It’s a tremendous legal, institutional, not to mention logistical challenge.”
The death toll rose to 25, even as the World Health Organization stopped short of calling the virus a global health emergency. The number of confirmed cases in mainland China rose to more than 800 as of Jan. 23, the National Health Commission said in a statement. One patient is as young as 10 years old.
Patients with the infection have been found in countries across Asia, with Singapore and Vietnam announcing cases while Japan and South Korea reported second patients. As the Lunar New Year holiday kicked off, panic and anger grew on the ground. Local media issued sharp criticisms of the slow response from officials in Hubei province, whose capital city is Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. Rumors have spread rapidly on social media, encompassing everything from a shortage of hospital beds to the spraying of disinfectant from planes.
Chinese officials led by President Xi Jinping pledged “all-out” efforts to contain the outbreak this week. The government on Friday vowed to punish officials who delay virus information, with the State Council setting up an online platform to allow the public to report disclosure problems.
For now, China appears willing to let local officials take the brunt of public anger. The country’s powerful internet censors have allowed criticism to fall heaviest on lower-level officials, such as Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang.
The mayor has faced calls to resign after he acknowledged in an interview with state broadcaster China Central Television on Tuesday that the city “didn’t have sufficient warnings” about the risk. Zhou said the government didn’t realize the severity of the disease when the first cluster of cases was discovered last month.
China’s state-controlled media have also weighed in. A commentary posted by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper on Tuesday said Wuhan’s statements had “caused panic” while its affiliated Global Times tabloid said the city’s “failed” to contain the virus early on.
The ruling Communist Party is seeking to avoid a repeat of situation during SARS. Back then, China fired more than 100 officials, including the health minister and the mayor of Beijing, amid allegations that local governments suppressed information about the disease.
Amid the government criticism, questions are also being raised about China’s ability to effectively screen for the disease. Details of those who have died after contracting the virus, which now includes someone as young as 36 years old, showed that several didn’t have a fever, potentially complicating global efforts to check for infected travelers as they arrive at airports and other travel hubs.