The spread of the coronavirus is understandably the number one talking point in world news with latest reports by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) stating that at least 94,000 people have been infected by COVID-19 so far with over 3,200 people having died. However, the tendency of western media toward hyperbole and xenophobia has led to a significant amount of disinformation, particularly regarding the origin of the disease and China’s efforts to contain the virus.
The racist propaganda exercise underway against China is quite deliberately designed to undermine the image of the state and cause mistrust and even hatred against Asain citizens in the west, some having already suffered racist attacks inspired by apocalyptic media coverage that has provoked mass hysteria, panic buying and boycotts of Chinese businesses.
It is important to challenge this xenophobic rhetoric and ensure that actual factual information, backed by doctors and scientists, is the voice that is heard in the coming months as the virus spreads in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, with tabloid press coverage undoubtedly set to become even more insufferable than it already is.
Claim: The Coronavirus Is a Biological Weapon
Over the past week, the mainstream media has begun to publish a variety of claims that suggest the COVID-19 coronavirus is of man-made origin, with both the New York Post in the United States and Daily Express in the United Kingdom amongst major outlets posting articles that suggest the possibility.
These articles suggest that the virus is a bioweapon accidentally released in Wuhan are nothing more than anti-Chinese propaganda from the media.
Writing at the end of February, Stephen W. Mosher of the Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post points to the fact that China has undertaken a program of increased security at facilities handling advanced viruses as evidence that there was a release of the coronavirus at the National Biosafety Laboratory, part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Of course, this claim completely ignores the fact that these facilities are now dealing with a largely unknown pathogen and the potential for both civil unrest and terrorism. Contingency measures against physical security threats and opportunistic attacks or seizures of pathogens during pandemics are standard aspects of disease control and homeland security.
Stephen Mosher is an anti-abortion activist and a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China. He was expelled from Stanford University’s PhD program for ‘lack of candour’ and noted for his publicly stated anti-China opinions.
Both the New York Post and Express are virulently right-wing and xenophobic tabloids, with the Express notorious for printing absurd conspiracy theories including regular articles on the “impending” apocalypse, aliens, ghosts and all manner of other pseudoscientific nonsense.
No mainstream scientists from China and the United States believe that the coronavirus is man-made and neither state has blamed the other for the outbreak despite being enemies. Both Chinese and American scientists agree that the virus is natural and those spreading allegations that the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are either members of the warhawk and sinophobic right, Chinese dissidents or regional enemies of the Chinese state.
Claim: The Chinese Aren’t Doing Enough to Combat the Virus
China has undertaken an immense effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 to the point that the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the campaign against the virus as “perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history”.
Chinese authorities acted swiftly to contain the virus and mobilised in significant numbers, an astounding 163,844 close contacts between infected patients traced in less than a few weeks and the 25,000-square-metre (30,000 sq yd) Huoshenshan Hospital being completed in Wuhan in a single week. The new hospital contained around 1,000 beds and was manned by 1,400 medical personnel from the People’s Liberation Army. The hospital utilised medical robots to deliver medicine and carry test samples.
The hospital was closed on February 2nd as new cases drop in China in line with predictions made at the start of February, Chinese treatment and quarantine practices being effective in the fight against the disease.
Despite western alarmism surrounding how far away treatments for the coronavirus is, leading Chinese doctors are dedicated to their research and have already announced that the first coronavirus clinical trial of the HIV-treatment drug Lopinavir has finished and is ready to be shared with WHO.
“The good news is that the first trial [from the] Lopinavir clinical trial is finished. The Chinese doctors will share the new results with WHO and the international society as soon as possible,” said Vice President of China-Japan Friendship Hospital, Cao Bin.
Du Bin, Director of Medical ICU at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, suggested that the only way to “fight against the plague” as if everyone did their job, and urged the government to “to educate the general public about the disease and how to prevent [the disease]. And to coordinate and organise all the resources, including human resources and other equipment.”
Such is the success of Chinese efforts that researchers involved in combatting the virus have predicted that by mid-March there may be no more new cases in mainland China outside of the epicentre in Hubei province.
“We have analysed the infections trend. So far, the daily infections in places other than Hubei have almost gone down to zero since late February,” Zhang Boli, one of 14 members on a research team working to control the epidemic told the official People’s Daily.
“According to our analysis of the statistics, we expect cities other than Wuhan in Hubei province will be basically free of [new] coronavirus patients in the middle of March. The hope is that Wuhan won’t have daily new cases in late March.”Zhang Boli, researcher
Meanwhile, the United States has a mere 2500 testing kits available.
“The US owes China an apology and the world owes China a ‘thank you’ because without China’s great sacrifice and contributions, we could not have won valuable time for the world to fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic.”Xinhua
Claim: COVID-19 Originated at a Market Selling Live Animals
While it was initially suspected that the outbreak of COVID-19 originated at a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, Chinese scientists no longer believe that to be the case.
A study published in The Lancet states that the first person to be diagnosed with COVID-19 was identified on December 1, 2019, and that the individual had had “no contact” with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Wu Wenjuan, a senior doctor at Wuhan’s Jinyintan Hospital, states that the elderly man was socially isolated and had not travelled to the market, as hadn’t two out of three other people who had developed symptoms following the case.
Meanwhile, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research have concluded that the virus was imported from elsewhere and spread throughout the city via the market, rather than the market being the source.
The team, led by Dr Yu Wenbin, had sequenced the genomic data of 93 SARS-CoV-2 samples provided by 12 countries.
Over the past few days, the British media has published the testimony of Connor Reed, an ex-pat English teacher in Wuhan. Reed started showing symptoms of the coronavirus on November 25th of last year, meaning he will have been infected around November 20th and making him very close to being patient zero. While Reed used the market in question, he states that western portrayal of the conditions there are completely false.
“Since the outbreak became international news, I’ve seen hysterical reports (especially in the U.S. media) that exotic meats such as bat and even koala are on sale at the fish market. I’ve never seen that. The only slightly weird sight I’ve seen is the whole pig and lamb carcasses for sale, with their heads on.”Connor Reed, coronavirus victim
The claims that the virus originated at the market have been utilised by western media to portray China in a negative light, deliberately invoking feelings of cultural difference and erroneously claiming that all manner of animals were on sale for consumption at the market. There is little doubt that western media has lept upon the outbreak to encourage sinophobic rhetoric against China, the Chinese government and Chinese citizens, rhetoric that has led to several racist attacks against Asian people in the UK.
Claim: The Chinese Have Covered up the Spread of the Virus
The claims that China “covered up” the outbreak of the coronavirus are baseless and without any supporting evidence, falling into the racist “untrustworthy Chinese” trope.
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine states that the median time for detection of the virus is 20 days and the time till confirmation is 36 days with the coronavirus believed to have passed from animals to humans at the end of November. China officially declared the outbreak at the beginning of January, well in line with the scientifically recognised statistics on the timing of the virus.
There is a consensus amongst world health bodies, including the WHO and Public Health England, that China was both prompt and open surrounding the virus in the early stages of the outbreak.
Despite this, western media continue to portray China in familiar propaganda terms harking back to age-old claims of “the closed state” populated by “inscrutable Chinese”.
Returning to the experiences of Connor Reed, the English teacher and Wuhan resident has stated that there was no cover-up by the Chinese state.
The Daily Mail’s sensationalist headline on Monday focused on a “cover-up” of the crisis.
But what was actually said was something quite different with Reed stating clearly “they’re not covering it up”.
Meanwhile, the American CDC has stopped disclosing how many Americans have been tested for coronavirus.
Since the outbreak was first detected in the United States the CDC has posted statistics on its website surrounding the number of confirmed cases, the number of deaths and the number of people tested for the virus.
The image below shows how the CDC’s website appeared on Monday as opposed to how it appeared by Wednesday.
In a letter to CDC director Robert Redfield, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), stated that “Americans are dying… We deserve to know how many people have been tested for, or who have died from, COVID-19,” adding that “knowing that CDC testing is keeping pace with the likely number of cases is imperative to maintaining public trust.”
The British government meanwhile has also come under scrutiny for engaging in a “cover-up” as health officials decided to stop providing daily updates on the spread of coronavirus in the UK, the Conservative government announcing that it will only update the public on the location of cases every Friday.
Main image: Images combined from a 3D medical animation, depicting the shape of coronavirus as well as the cross-sectional view. Image shows the major elements including the Spike S protein, HE protein, viral envelope, and helical RNA | https://www.scientificanimations.com