Exactly one year ago, a 55-year-old Hubei resident was believed to be the first person to be struck down with coronavirus, the contagion that has since then been on a relentless march across the globe, affecting more than 55 million people and leaving 1.33 million dead in its wake.
Though China never really acknowledged the patient zero and would perhaps never admit to it in future as well, a report published in the South China Morning Post in March this year attributed the coronavirus infection to an unnamed 55-year-old Hubei inhabitant. The South China Morning Post accessed Chinese data which revealed that every day for the following month five new cases of coronavirus were reported.
Chinese officials turned a blind eye to the growing number of “mysterious new pneumonia cases”
Around this time last year, as China’s bitter winter swept the country, several people in the Hubei province started reporting mysterious pneumonia cases of unknown cause. Chinese social media apps, most notably WeChat was rife with rumours of a strange new flu and common pneumonia akin to “SARS” taking root in the province capital, Wuhan.
However, the CT scan images revealed that the symptoms exhibited by a growing number of people in Wuhan were characteristics of neither of the diseases. With increasing number of people reporting lung abnormalities, their CT scan images and blood reports confirmed a new kind of “viral infection” that doctor speculated was “probably infectious”.
But the Chinese authorities continued to remain in denial, showing eager alacrity to quell any discussion over the new mysterious disease that was gaining hold in Wuhan and surrounding areas, even as people kept reporting being down with a range of inexplicable symptoms including high fever, coughing and respiratory complications. Several hospitals in Wuhan began reporting a large number of cases of this mysterious new disease even as Chinese authorities turned a blind eye to the rising caseloads.
It was only weeks later that China realised that the virus was more resilient than it had imagined and that there was no other way but to acknowledge the dangerous new infection. On December 8, 2019, it grudgingly reported the first case to the World Health Organisation. However, even then China did not acknowledge the possibility of a human-to-human transmission of the disease. It took them about 40 more days, until January 21, to report that the coronavirus was susceptible of human transmission.
China muzzled Scientists and virologists from making public discoveries related to coronavirus
China has also reportedly gagged scientists and virologists who had tried to sound the alarm regarding coronavirus and made path-breaking discovery in treating the contagion.
Virologist Shi Zhengli, an expert based at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and her team made an incredible discovery of the coronavirus gene sequence but they were reportedly “muzzled” from making it public.
According to Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who interviewed Shi during her incarceration in Wuhan, the institute had finished gene-sequencing and related tests as early as January 2 but were prevented from releasing it. Shi had identified the novel coronavirus and developed its gene sequencing within three days, finding that it was 96 per cent similar to a virus found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan. The information about the gene sequencing wasn’t made public until a week later.
A whistleblowing Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the outbreak, was among the first few to flag the emergence of a new kind of respiratory illness that had overwhelmed the hospitals in the city. He had warned about the disease to his fellow doctors’ group on WeChat. However, the Chinese authorities reprimanded him for sharing “illegal and false” information about the coronavirus. A few months later, Li died of the coronavirus.
Initial mismanagement and lack of transparency by China propelled the global journey of coronavirus
The initial mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis by China, coupled with its efforts to suppress transparency in the identification and treatment of the disease proved catastrophic for the entire world. On January 12, China released the genetic sequencing of the COVID-19, almost 2 months after the first novel coronavirus case was reported in Hubei. A day later, coronavirus was reported to have gone global after Thailand reported its first case.
Since then there has been no turning back. The coronavirus outbreak has galloped at an unprecedented pace across the world. From the United States to Australia, from Brazil to Italy, the coronavirus pandemic had ravaged several hundred countries, crippling their economies due to the virus-induced lockdowns imposed in the affected countries and strained public health systems.
Many countries in the world had gradually emerged out of these lockdowns, only to be hit by the second wave of coronavirus that had forced them to once again impose the restrictions. Others, which are not in a position to reimpose the lockdowns, are helplessly bearing the brunt of the virus at the cost of avoiding an imminent financial disaster. A year on, the pandemic continues to rage, leaving the world as vulnerable as it was when it was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in November 2019.