Someone is shocked that the Chinese gubbermint might be lying?
Cue the meme.
China’s announcement this month of nearly a week of no new infections in Wuhan, the hard-hit city where the coronavirus pandemic originated, was both hope-inspiring — and hard to believe.
Medical professionals said the draconian set of policies imposed by the Chinese government – including widespread testing, isolation of all infected people and anyone they came in contact with – are proven methods for limiting contagion. Other countries, South Korea and Taiwan, for example, have followed similar courses, and they have also reported steep declines in new infections, though neither says it has achieved no new local infections, as China claims.
“What we don’t know is the degree to which they’re being transparent and the degree to which they’re following up on existing infections,” Don Goldmann, a professor of immunology, infectious diseases, and epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a phone interview.
Dr. Goldmann said Chinese scientists have been extremely transparent about what they’ve discovered about the coronavirus so far; they have shared information on the genetics and sequencing of the virus and details of autopsies, clinical care and outcomes, he said, plus fatality rates among different age groups.
“So I’m not sure why they would make this up,” he said, “especially since risking another wave of this would not be in their interests or in the interests of their leadership.”
Still, skepticism about China’s no-new-local-infections claim is widespread, including, at least according to the anecdotal evidence, inside China. The doubt is fueled both by China’s Communist Party’s long history of propaganda and by the obvious benefits of changing the focus from the government’s initial efforts to suppress information about the coronavirus to its supposedly glorious victory over the disease crippling much of the world.
“A propaganda spokesman’s job is the turn messy facts into a clean narrative,” Andrew J. Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University and a leading China expert, said in an email. “China is trying to bury the embarrassment of the Covid-19 cover-up in a happy story of triumph over the virus.
“But it feels like overreaching to say that transmission has completely stopped,” Nathan continued. “It seems that the message is political, not epidemiological.”