The new coronavirus that has spread consternation around the world over the last few weeks has now killed more people in China than the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003. China’s health commission reported Sunday that there were 361 deaths nationwide. During the SARS outbreak, 349 people died in mainland China and 774 altogether around the world. The Chinese stock markets took major hits Monday, and the whole nation feels its growing isolation.
Yet last December—before people all over China were falling sick with pneumonia-like symptoms, before people around the world grew alarmed about a disease leaping from captured wild animals to human shoppers in dense Chinese food markets, and before coronavirus reached new shores after being carried onto planes by human hosts, forcing the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency—eight people discussed how several patients in Wuhan were experiencing severe, rapid breakdowns in their respiratory systems.
They were part of a medical school’s alumni group on WeChat, a popular social network in China, and they were concerned that SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was back.
It wasn’t long before police detained them. The authorities said these eight doctors and medical technicians were “misinforming” the public, that there was no SARS, that the information was obviously wrong, and that everyone in the city must remain calm. On the first day of 2020, Wuhan police said they had “taken legal measures” against the eight individuals who had “spread rumors.”
Since then, the phenomenal spread of the virus has created cracks even within the normally united front of the Chinese Communist Party. “It might have been fortunate if the public had believed the ‘rumor’ and started to wear masks, carry out sanitization measures, and avoid the wild animal market,” a judge of China’s Supreme People’s Court wrote online last Tuesday.
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