The coronavirus marks the biggest challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took control of the country in 2012.
Tens of millions remain in quarantine, economic growth forecasts have been reduced, countries around the world have closed their borders to Chinese arrivals and people are furious with the authoritarian government.
The virus has now infected more than 83,000 people worldwide, with 2,800 deaths. While the vast majority of these cases are contained in China, it has now spread to all continents besides Antarctica, which caused fears of a pandemic.
Xi, and his obsession with China’s rise to a leading global superpower, is largely to blame.
The Chinese authorities have been blamed for allowing the virus to spread as much as it did, by silencing the initial spread and minimizing its transmission.
Local authorities in Hubei province, the epicenter of the virus, first expected the virus to disappear on its own. His instinctive response was to cover up anything negative in the hope that he would not return to Mr. Xi’s intimate circle.
On December 31, the Wuhan government made its first official announcement that 27 people had become ill from a mysterious virus that seemed to come from a seafood market.
But he denied the transmission from person to person, a crucial factor that differentiates the most easily cancelable diseases from full-blown epidemics.
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Over the next two weeks, infections increased, emergency rooms filled up, people who had never stepped on the seafood market got sick and medical workers became infected.
It was not until January 20, three weeks after Wuhan’s first announcement, that the transmission from person to person was confirmed. Three days later, based on his 2003 SARS playbook, the Chinese government closed Wuhan and several other cities in Hubei.
Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang later took responsibility for the delay, but said effectively that his hands were tied by the central party government.
“After receiving information, I can only disclose it when authorized,” he said.
A national law dictates that local governments can only declare an epidemic after receiving approval from the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, Wuhan needed Beijing’s approval before telling the whole truth about the virus.
It could be argued that Mr. Xi did not realize what was happening until it was too late.
But earlier this month, a transcript of a private speech that the leader delivered later and knew that the virus spread much earlier than originally thought.
The Chinese leader issued orders to combat the coronavirus on January 7, during a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee of the country, almost two weeks before his first public comments on the deadly disease.
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“I issued demands during a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee on January 7 to work to contain the outbreak. On January 20, I gave special instructions on work to prevent and control the outbreak and said we should pay close attention to it, ”said Mr. Xi.
He also revealed that he had personally ordered the closure of the epicenter of the virus.
“On January 22, in light of the rapid spread of the epidemic and the challenges of prevention and control, I clearly requested that Hubei Province implement comprehensive and strict controls on the exit of people,” said Mr. Xi .
It was not until January 23 that Chinese authorities banned traveling in and out of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. At this point, thousands of people had already traveled in and out of the city, around the continent and abroad.
Since January, China has seen a rare shower of criticism over initial attempts by authorities to suppress information about the disease.
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China’s social media pages have been flooded with angry netizens who criticize officials for not containing the initial outbreak in the closed city.
Much of the anger was due to the authorities initially suppressing the outbreak information.
Of course, public dissent is the last thing Beijing wants to see. So why didn’t Mr. Xi say anything before?
In an opinion article for The Guardian, exiled Chinese author Ma Jian said the party “always places its own survival above the welfare of the people.”
The defining symbol of this was Dr. Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who was reprimanded for warning his former medical classmates about the virus in the beginning, before dying of the virus.
On January 30, while on his deathbed, Dr. Li told the Beijing-based newspaper Caixina: “A healthy society cannot have a single voice.”
“In that sentence, he identified the root cause of China’s disease,” Ma writes. “Xi suppresses the truth and information to create his” harmonious “utopian society.
“But harmony can only arise from a plurality of different voices, not from the monologue of a single note of a tyrant.”