The virus could have been better contained if China had not tried to hush it up at the start. Autocracy comes at a price.
The coronavirus outbreak in China has stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment in many countries across the world and there have been growing reports of attacks on people of Asian heritage. This violence cannot be tolerated. Diseases recognize no nationality, respect no borders. There will always be epidemics, and as the world becomes more connected, the risk of a disease spreading across the globe will only increase.
It's important for the international community to learn from crises like this one and invest in international bodies such as the World Health Organization, whose work is proving to be incredibly important. Like racism and prejudice, nationalist politics have no place in this crisis. Those affected in China deserve our solidarity, especially those in poorer regions who have little chance of receiving adequate medical care.
No one is to blame for the epidemic, but when it comes to dealing with and containing the disease, we must hold the Chinese government responsible. For political reasons, they did not inform the population or the international community about the outbreak quickly enough. The virus was therefore able to spread across the world, as the local government first arrested eight doctors who discovered the outbreak, then waited three weeks to go public, when the epidemic could no longer be concealed.
2019-nCoV virion, a.k.a. coronavirus — Source: CDC
Foreign powers assumed that the affected province of Hubei was being sealed off in January for political reasons, when in fact it was a desperate attempt to contain the virus — an overreaction from a political system under stress. Nowadays Beijing's actions come as no surprise in Germany, where we are used to dealing with an autocratic China and accept that they promote their political system as an alternative to our liberal democracy. We lap up the benefits of working with China, happy to profit from their economy without having to bear the human cost of such lack of freedom.
China prioritized its international reputation over its citizens' wellbeing.
The epidemic could have been contained much sooner if people in the affected region had been warned by the authorities. Instead, China prioritized its own international reputation over its citizens' wellbeing. If the virus spreads to Germany, that could be one of the prices of an autocratic system, but here we're not used to paying the price.
There are already hints about what lessons the Chinese government will draw from the crisis. What the country needs is independent reporting so that the political failings can be identified and rectified. It needs apolitical institutions that people outside of the government can trust. And yet, Beijing is currently stepping up censorship, preventing journalists from reporting from the region and arresting citizens who draw attention to mismanagement or need.
Still, the lesson China's leader Xi Jinping is most likely to take from the crisis is proof that his power is actually not far-reaching enough, not all-encompassing enough. And that spells trouble for the future.