A year ago, China reported an outbreak of an unknown lung disease in Wuhan to the WHO. Serious mistakes were made on site early in the crisis. Talking about it openly is almost impossible in China today.
By Steffen Wurzel, ARD-Studio Shanghai
Wuhan is back to everyday life. At least at first glance. On the splendid promenade on the Yangtze River, for example, around 30 good-humored women and men are crowded together at a jetty. An excursion steamer has docked. The river cruise by boat costs 228 yuan, says one of the waiting people, the equivalent of almost 30 euros.
When asked when the sociable boat trips have been taking place again in Wuhan, since when he no longer feels the corona restrictions in everyday life, the 35-year-old looks a bit puzzled; as if wondering about such a stupid question.
“Everything is back to normal in Wuhan! For a long time, for half a year or so. Compared to Europe and the USA, Wuhan has got the virus under control much more successfully. China has strong government supervision and the population follows it Guidelines very conscientious. Not like in countries where people only talk about freedoms and human rights all the time. “
Differing opinions only behind closed doors
Many people in Wuhan are expressing themselves as self-confident, patriotic and satisfied as this 35-year-old. Thoughtful, critical voices can of course also be heard, but only a few want to express themselves openly; especially not if their opinion deviates from the official line of the communist state and party leadership. One of them is Wu Xiaoyu.
On New Year’s Eve 2019, December 31, 2019, she became aware for the first time: This new lung disease, this virus, is much more dangerous than feared. Wu Xiaoyu is a doctor. She was working in a Wuhan hospital in late 2019. In order to protect them from possible repression by the Chinese authorities, we have changed their name; the doctor’s name is actually different.
“New Year’s Eve, that was the first day of my long-planned annual vacation. At 9 am I got a call from my boss. I was supposed to be back to the hospital for an important meeting. The meeting was about a notice from the health authorities about an outbreak of an unknown lung disease. That’s how I found out. ”
State and party leadership downplayed first
The number of emergency patients in Wuhan rose steadily through January. At the same time, China’s state and party leadership tried to use the state media to appease and downplay the problem. On January 6th, a spokeswoman for the national news channel CCTV announced:
“So far, research has not provided unequivocal evidence that the disease can be transmitted from person to person or that medical personnel can become infected.”
It was already clear at the time that this was misinformation, says doctor Wu Xiaoyu.
“The truth is: As early as December 31, when we met on New Year’s Eve, we were all convinced that human-to-human transmission was possible . January officially through the media that people can infect each other. Only then did the public find out and people began to take the disease really seriously. “
A lack of information cost lives
One of the strongest open critics of the Chinese leadership in terms of corona management is Zhang Hai. He is originally from Wuhan, but has lived in Shenzhen in southern China for the past few years with his 76-year-old father, a highly decorated military veteran.
When he needed an operation in January, Zhang Hai took his father to Wuhan. When the two arrived there on January 17th, the hospitals were already full with Covid-19 patients. Zhang Hai’s father contracted the coronavirus there while he was being treated. He became seriously ill and finally died of Covid on February 1st. If he had known of the enormous risk of infection, he would of course never have brought his father to Wuhan, says Zhang Hai in an interview with the Swiss radio station SRF.
“Wuhan’s city government lied then and continues to do so today!”
A futile lawsuit
Zhang Hai has sued the relevant authorities. An almost hopeless undertaking in China, because the rule of law does not exist in the People’s Republic.
“The Wuhan government is putting a lot of pressure on us. Many have given up because of that. Which I can understand. But I will not give up. Although they also harass and threaten me.”
It is questionable whether it will ever be possible to clarify exactly where the new corona virus came from around a year ago. The first cases of the disease could be traced back to December 2019, to the grounds of a wildlife market in Wuhan. Today, around a year later, there is not much to see there: the buildings on the edge of a four-lane street are empty. Almost all information and advertising signs have been removed.
Propaganda machine is running at full speed
China’s propaganda has meanwhile been suggesting for weeks that the virus was presumably introduced into Wuhan from abroad. That catches. This is also the case with this saleswoman who sells crabs near the former market hall.
“The virus did not come from Wuhan. Foreigners brought it in – the Americans! It had nothing to do with Wuhan or Hubei. Thanks to our communist system, China managed the crisis well. For the central government, the health of the people is more important than anything else. ”