(Right Country) – The widespread suspicion that Chinese authorities aren’t being fully transparent about the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak seems to be picking up steam. At first, it was thought that perhaps there was just a failure to adequately record cases appropriately, like not classifying deaths from pneumonia as the coronavirus when in fact, it they were. As the situation gains more attention, however, it is becoming clear that there is a deliberate effort going on to purposefully suppress the actual numbers.
Since the outbreak has really starting to pick up over the last couple of weeks, Chinese citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin have been providing the world with insight on the situation straight from the outbreak’s epicenter: Wuhan. Using their mobile phones to record videos and then posting them to Twitter, they’ve been giving the world a direct view of just how serious the outbreak has become.
Now one of them has gone missing.
Chen has been out of reach for more than 20 hours. Fang, who was silent much of Friday until a video posted in the evening, was previously detained briefly by authorities for his video of corpses in a hospital. When he filmed the dramatic moment people in hazmat suits broke down his apartment door to take him into quarantine, it sparked hundreds of comments urging the authorities to release him.
It’s no accident that their posts grew viral on American platforms. China’s internet watchdog has stepped up its policing efforts, announcing on Wednesday it would conduct “targeted supervision” on the largest social media platforms including Weibo, Tencent’s WeChat and ByteDance’s Douyin. The regulator has already frozen a raft of social media accounts, then stepped up online scrubbing to quiet a wave of confused outrage over the death of the doctor that first raised red flags about the disease.
In this environment, U.S.-based Twitter has emerged as the destination for locals seeking information about the spread of the virus. It’s officially banned in the country, but many people hop the Great Firewall and access the platform via virtual private networks.
Chen, the most visible among scores of residents documenting the human disaster around them, has for many followers become the go-to source for real facts about the epidemic. Wuhan locals have filmed some of the most chilling videos during the outbreak, including images of untreated corpses, discontent among quarantined patients in hospitals and police knocking on doors to enforce censorship. Bloomberg News has not independently verified the authenticity of those videos.
Chen has been out of contact for a prolonged period of time. His friends posted a message on his Twitter account saying he has been unreachable since 7 p.m. local time on Thursday. In a texted interview, Bloomberg News’s last question to Chen was whether he was concerned about his safety as he’s among the few people reporting the situation on the front lines.
His response has yet to come back.
If anybody was still unsure of whether or not China is deliberately suppressing information on the coronavirus outbreak, this should take away any doubt. The Chinese government controls everything in China including the spin put on serious health emergencies. The health safety of the world is not more important than protecting China’s legacy and reputation.
Chen was sending up flares to the rest of the world and the Chinese government shut him down.