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Coronavirus | An epidemic of incompetence and insecurity

China’s repeated crises point to the weaknesses in the political system of reporting and accountability.

February 10, 2020 / 11:04 AM IST
A couple wearing masks attend a mass wedding ceremony in Gapyeong, South Korea, February 7, 2020. REUTERS

A couple wearing masks attend a mass wedding ceremony in Gapyeong, South Korea, February 7, 2020. REUTERS

Jabin T Jacob

The Chinese city of Wuhan saw the emergence of a novel coronavirus – officially designated “2019-nCoV” – in December last year. Information about the virus was communicated to the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the end of the month but it was only towards mid-January that the Chinese leadership found it necessary to reveal the information to its own people.

Wuhan had come to the attention to the average Indian because of the eponymous ‘informal summit’ between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2018 that followed the Doklam standoff the previous year and was supposed to have mended bilateral ties. It might be more relevant, however, for Indians to think about Wuhan as a sign of the failure of China's vaunted efficiency and of the selection system of its supposedly meritocratic leaders.

In 2015, the Uttar Pradesh government wrongly arrested Kafeel Khan a doctor posted at a Gorakhpur hospital on false charges of negligence following the deaths of 30 infants owing to their oxygen supply running out. The supply had run out because bills had been unpaid — an administrative failure on part of state government officials. In Wuhan, meanwhile, authorities took “legal measures” against eight doctors who had shared information of the growing epidemic in chat groups at the end of December. The authorities even widely publicised the punishment of the eight “rumor spreaders”. It was not until a month later on January 29 that the Wuhan city mayor finally admitted a failure to disclose information on the outbreak to the people in a timely manner.