As the number of confirmed Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases rose to more than 20,200 with a total of 426 deaths reported on Tuesday, February 04, the ruling Chinese Communist Party is moving to curb media organisations and social media users in their reporting of the epidemic, RFA has learned.
The propaganda department of the party has ordered journalists in Wuhan working for Caixin, Phoenix news, and other state-approved news organisations to conduct a review of their coverage after their reports indicated that local officials had likely sought to cover up the extent of the outbreak in its early stages.
Journalists who had interviewed patients or their families, or reported on the large number of patients left to fend for themselves at home due to a lack of resources, and were therefore left out of official statistics, were also targeted for “review” by propaganda officials.
Many estimates have taken the number of undiagnosed, untreated, and uncounted coronavirus patients into account, with the majority of observers convinced that the number of cases likely exceeds 100,000, with deaths also going unreported.
One reporter who declined to be named said propaganda officials had ordered their publication to delete a reference to large numbers of uncounted cases.
“The more severe censorship was around the question of statistics,” the journalist told RFA. “The central propaganda department directly ordered the deletion of that part.”
“Other media have been prevented from publishing some stories; the copy just hasn’t been published with no notice given, even by word of mouth,” the journalist said.
Government censors have also deleted accounts belonging to medical imaging experts Zhang Bo and Zhang Xiaochun of Wuhan University’s Zhongnan Hospital after they posted a request for diagnosis to be made through CT scans rather than genetic tests of the virus.
Zhang Xiaochun had also called on the government to search hotels and student dormitories for suspected patients to avoid clusters of infection from spreading in areas where people live together.
Zhang was also one source of the estimate that the true number of coronavirus cases is likely around 100,000.
Her posts came after relatives said via RFA and social media reports that they had been unable to get a diagnosis or treatment for their sick family members because of a lack of hospital beds or coronavirus test kits.
A professor surnamed Zhou at Central South University in neighbouring Hunan province said Zhang’s allegations ring completely true, and warned that sending patients back home will just mean that they infect all of their family and friends.
“What she’s saying is totally true. This is indeed what is happening,” Zhou said. “They won’t just be infecting their families but other people in the same building.”
The warnings to media professionals and social media users came as state security police released citizen journalist Fang Bin after detaining him in connection with a video he posted of dead and dying patients in Wuhan’s No. 5 Hospital at the weekend.
The video went viral, and a group of people showed up at Fang’s home, dressed as medical personnel.
They were actually police, and they confiscated Fang’s computers and took him away for questioning, according to a video he posted about his ordeal.
In Beijing, veteran rights activist Hu Jia said he was also taken away for questioning by state security police.
“[The state security police] are under huge pressure over this epidemic,” Hu said. “But people’s sense of grievance is already at boiling point because of [the government’s]irresponsibility in covering everything up.”
“They have to stamp out any sign of criticism online,” Hu said, adding that he was likely detained for speaking to RFA in an earlier interview. (Source: RFA)