Wuhan On Lockdown: Two Months Of Human Rights Abuses, Censorship, And Propaganda
The World Health Organization has upheld China’s approach to combating the novel coronavirus as a model for the world to follow.
“China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic,” read a February report from WHO.
But China’s unparalleled lockdown measures have resulted in food shortages, lack of access to routine medical care, and extreme surveillance measures.
The lockdowns have also come with censorship and state propaganda, which aim to create a narrative benefiting the Chinese Communist Party.
Two months ago, on January 23, the Chinese government announced that the city of Wuhan, population 11 million, would be shut down. It soon followed that another 45 million people in Hubei province were placed under some form of lockdown, while other restrictions went into effect across China.
At first, people in Wuhan could leave their homes. But orders soon escalated in some places to only allow one member of each family to leave a home once every two days for an approved purpose. In other parts of the city, no one was permitted to leave their home, and food and supplies were brought in by couriers.
Officials went door to door checking temperatures, security guards kept people from entering or exiting apartment buildings, thousands of enforcers made sure people obeyed quarantine rules, and anyone ill was sent into isolation.
Alexandra L. Phelan, a Professor in Global and Public Health Law and Ethics at Georgetown University, told the New York Times that the heavy enforcement by police essentially makes the quarantine measures “a coercive action rather than a public health action.”
Some Hubei residents under lockdown reportedly do not have access to enough food, and the food they do have access to is overpriced.
A woman from the city Xiangyang in her 20s told AFP her family was surviving on vegetables they grew themselves. A teenager with cerebral palsy, Yan Cheng, died after he had no food for six days because his father and brother were in quarantine, reported the Guardian.
The price of vegetables grew 300-400 percent under the lockdown, while pork ribs cost more than $10 a pound, an anonymous university student told CNN.
The only option for residents who are not permitted to leave their homes is to order groceries with their neighbors through messaging apps. One person in this situation, David Dai, told AFP a third of the food he and his neighbors received was rotten, and they were forced to throw it out.
Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, published a report saying many Wuhan residents “expressed difficulties about access to medical care and other life necessities.”
“When quarantines are imposed, governments have absolute obligations to ensure access to food, water, and health care,” said the organization.
Human Rights Watch reported a pregnant woman in Wuhan was forced to walk a long distance to get to her doctor, as private vehicles are banned from Wuhan. A man on HIV medication was not able to get a refill on his prescription, the organization also noted.
In another example of lack of access to basic medical care, the city of Hangzhou barred pharmacies from selling pain-relief drugs in an effort to force people with any symptoms to go to hospitals, the New York Times reported.
“If it continues like this, we won’t be able to sustain our daily life,” said the anonymous university student.
Dr. Luciana Borio, the former director of medical and biodefense preparedness for the National Security Council, said of the lockdowns: “A lot of people’s rights were violated.”
The Chinese government also used extreme surveillance methods to control the every movement of citizens.
A man from Sichuan province who had visited Hubei province told Time that police showed up at his house and ordered him to quarantine. He said when he later went outside to pick vegetables, he received a phone call telling him to return home immediately.
Technology companies have also created apps which give Chinese citizens a color-coded rating based on their tracked travel history, health conditions, and symptoms. The app is used to control who is able to go where.
When doctors, including ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, warned colleagues over WeChat about the virus in December, they were summoned by police and forced to sign confessions. Li later died from the virus.
One episode which shows the censorship of the lockdowns is the silencing of protests from apartment windows.
On March 6, Wuhan residents famously shouted “It’s fake! It’s all fake!” when Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited Wuhan province. The protests were part of accusations that grocery deliveries of free and reduced-price foods had been staged for the visit when the reality was food was in short supply, according to CNN. Sun reportedly ordered an investigation into the food supply following the incident.
Social media posts suggest when President Xi Jinping visited China, local police were stationed on balconies to prevent the protests from happening again.
Chinese officials have promoted their lockdowns as the ideal response to the virus.
“Chinese experience will be utilized to save humanity globally,” Zamir Ahmed Awan, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization wrote in the China Daily.
However, Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at Council on Foreign Relations told Time China’s quarantine activities entailed a “disregard for civil liberties and human rights.”
Bollyky said the human rights violations in the lockdowns are “inseparable from the policies and actions of the government that contributed to the outbreak in the first place.”
“No other nation (western or otherwise) can or should seek to replicate China’s actions,” he added.
The city of Wuhan announced Sunday it would begin to loosen the lockdown following claims there have been almost no new infections in Hubei province in recent days. (RELATED: REPORT: China Concealed Over 43,000 Confirmed Coronavirus Cases By End of February)
Statemedia CCTV News reported people would be allowed to return to work with a green health code issued by the government, normal body temperature, and a certificate from an employer, according to the New York Post.
The Guardian said “small groups of residents” in Wuhan were seen on Monday leaving their residences to go to grocery stores and on walks for the first time in weeks.
The World Health Organization continues to promote China’s lockdowns as a model for the world, citing the huge decrease in reported cases in China.
“China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response,” said World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (RELATED: Top WHO Official Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Won Election With China’s Help. Now He’s Running Interference For China on Coronavirus)
Some Americans have also pointed to China as a model to follow in containing the coronavirus.
For example, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow brought New York Times reporter Donald McNeil on her March 12 show, and he detailed China’s “enormous success” against coronavirus. Maddow thanked McNeil for detailing the “distance between” China’s response and “what we’re preparing for.” Maddow then discussed Trump’s supposed failures compared to the Chinese government’s alleged success.
There are now over 46,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States and over 580 deaths. State governments have placed over 158 million Americans under shelter-in-place orders.