Coronavirus epidemic: counter-measures under scrutiny

Coronavirus, the first cases of which were discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, continues to spread across the globe. So far more than 42,000 cases of infection and 1,113 deaths have been registered. European media praise China for its exemplary commitment to fighting the disease despite widespread criticism and examine unexpected side effects.

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Diário de Notícias (PT) /

Only China can work this fast

Journalist Ricardo Santos comments admiringly in Diário de Notícias on how quickly the virus is being dealt with in China and how entire hospitals are being built overnight:

“Everything works against the clock and the mobilisation capacity of the country and its inhabitants is without comparison in the rest of the world. It is in the culture. In the eyes of European technocrats this may seem absurd, but anyone who is familiar with Chinese and Asian culture will soon realise that we should not apply our standards at this point. If I could choose a country where an epidemic breaks out, it would be China.”

Der Bund (CH) /

Dangerous dependence on medications from China

Europe is dependent on China and India to supply its population with essential medicines and this is a cause for concern, says Der Bund:

“Apart from the problems that arise anyway, the blackmail potential of the Asian superpower in a political or economic conflict would be enormous. In a globalised market with great price pressure it's too easy to pin all the blame on individual players, such as generic drug manufacturers. Ultimately, there is only one solution to reduce dependence on China and India: producing important active ingredients in Europe again. However, this would mean that production costs and by extension sales prices would rise.”

newsru.com (RU) /

China ailing due to lack of trust

The economic instability triggered by the virus shows how much the world distrusts China's government, writes journalist Kirill Martynov in a Facebook post re-published by newsru.com:

“Panicky rumours are circulating on the Internet that over a thousand people are dying in Wuhan. At the Chinese border, Russians are refusing to work with goods from China because they believe they're infected. They are taking precautions at every level, and as a result prices are going up and business is going down. A dictatorship may be perfectly positioned to enforce a quarantine. ... But it has no way of forcing people to believe it. One consequence of China's disregard for human rights is the lack of a free press in the country - which means that there is no one to monitor or investigate the actions of the state power.”

Expressen (SE) /

Democracy has the edge in fighting viruses too

Expressen points out that with their openness and tolerance, democracies have a clear advantage in the fight against viruses:

“A country which is controlled from above can act quickly: there's no need to apply for a building permit when Xi Jinping wants a hospital built. Engineers and workers can be brought in from all over the country and forced to work around the clock. Medical personnel can be picked up by the army. However, the openness of a democratic society, with decision-makers who respond to the free media and citizens, is unbeatable. If Chinese doctors had dared to raise the alarm quickly and openly and the regional political leaders had been quick off the mark, they might have been able to stop the outbreak.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Closing wet markets counterproductive

The coronavirus may have spread to humans at markets where wild animals are sold. China has banned the sale of all wildlife products. Worldwide, voices are also calling for a ban on so-called wet markets, where fresh meat, fish, and live animals are sold. Anthropologists warn against this in La Libre Belgique:

“That would deprive Chinese consumers of a sector that accounts for 30 to 59 percent of their food supply. Given the high number of affected farmers, traders and consumers, abolishing the wet markets could result in a thriving and uncontrollable black market, as was the case with the 2003 ban attempt in response to the Sars epidemic. ... That would expose public health care in China and the world to a much greater risk than that posed by legally authorised and regulated live animal markets.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

EU notable for its absence

Brussels correspondent Andrea Bonanni accuses the EU of inaction in La Repubblica:

“Instead of taking the lead in the European emergency, Brussels, faced with the first global spectre of the coronavirus, is hiding behind its usual stammering about 'national competences' to justify its lack of initiative. It's true that health policy - like education - is a purely national matter, and the EU can only act as a coordinating power. But it has not been pleasant to watch European airlines deciding whether and when to suspend flights to China without any consultation among each other. Nor does the image of a Europe of freedom of movement benefit from national governments deciding how and to whom they apply quarantine regulations.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Solidarity with China - whatever the regime does

Dagens Nyheter calls for a distinction to be made between the government and the population of China in the debate about the virus:

“If it turns out that the regime was very reluctant to share information, this may not be surprising. Dictatorships have a reputation for being effective in crisis situations. In reality, however, frightened bureaucrats often fear taking responsibility and showing initiative. ... It is only to be hoped that the Chinese state really does act with as much openness and vigour as is necessary to thwart the virus. Regardless of what China's authoritarian regime does, the people of the country deserve the world's unconditional solidarity.”

Portal Plus (SI) /

A welcome diversion for Beijing

China's government could have deliberately fuelled the panic surrounding the virus, Portal Plus suspects:

“For three weeks now, the corona virus has been among the top news items, including in international media. Who remembers the concentration camps for the Uyghurs, or the protests of pro-democracy students and other citizens in Hong Kong? No one. The corona virus 'killed' both topics and the regime in Beijing was able to breathe a sigh of relief, because all the attention is now focused on health. The drastic measures that have left the worst-affected areas isolated, restricted freedom of movement and even put a damper on the New Year's celebrations show that the outbreak of the corona virus is a perfect alibi for Beijing to test the loyalty of its citizens and the effectiveness of media control over the population.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Racism spreading with the virus

Avvenire observes a worrying secondary effect of the spread of coronavirus which is also evident in Europe:

“The xenophobia is aimed not just at people who travel here from China, but also Chinese citizens, companies, restaurants, young football players and children who have lived here for years and attend Italian schools - none of whom have any ties to the city of Wuhan or the province of Hubei, the epicentre of the epidemic. ... While it's wrong to say that the Italians are racist, it is equally wrong to take refuge in the comforting notion that they're not racist. ... The alarm bells are ringing for all of us - not because of the virus but because of the racism that's using it as a pretext.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Journalism must be based on science

Der Standard warns against conspiracy theories, pointing to the relatively good access to information:

“Never before in the history of humankind has the transmission of a new pathogen from animal to human been discovered so quickly, the virus completely decoded, propagated in cell culture and current knowledge in scientific in scientific publications made available to the entire world so quickly. Everyone can access these studies. Journalists must also be able to use this knowledge as a basis for a serious assessment of the actual health risk. ... Whether we like it or not, we will have to learn to live with the outbreak of new diseases. ... Journalism based on science may sell less well than that which plays on fear. But it is the only recipe against conspiracy theories.”

eldiario.es (ES) /

Calm down, please!

In eldiario.es, author Isaac Rosa criticises what he sees as unnecessary panic-mongering in the media:

“I'm going to reassure you so you won't be afraid. I repeat: so you won't be afraid. Afraid. Understand? A-F-R-A-I-D. ... So there's no need to be AFRAID, because no patients in SPAIN have been INFECTED with the VIRUS YET. What do you say? Why the capital letters? ... I'm using them like a newsreader on TV, emphasising certain words so that they are easily understood. ... So don't be AFRAID: the Chinese authorities are taking EXTREME MEASURES and have even CLOSED THE CHINESE WALL. ”

nv.ua (UA) /

New dimensions in Southeast Asia

Commenting in Novoye Vremya, Ukrainian journalist Ivan Yakovyna fears less for Europe than for the poorer Asian states:

“One of the most disturbing reports is the discovery of the coronavirus in Cambodia. From there it's not far to Myanmar and Bangladesh, where hundreds of millions of poor people live in very cramped conditions and without even basic medical care. If the new virus spreads to these places the consequences will be catastrophic. The death toll will be on an entirely different scale than at present.”

Népszava (HU) /

Why Xi personally is fighting the virus

The virus has put the Chinese president in a tight spot, but it's not one he can't wriggle out of, Népszava believes:

“The coronavirus poses a much greater threat to China's leadership than the demonstrations in Hong Kong or the election results in Taiwan. This time, it can't be denied that the crisis originated and is centred in China. There can be no pinning the blame on obscure, hostile external forces . ... China's President senses this danger. The proof is that he's striking back and personally taking control of the fight against the epidemic. But no doubt he'll fall back on old strategies and find a few people in the middle or even upper echelons of power who can be used as scapegoats.”

24tv.ua (UA) /

Spread can no longer be stopped

Panic will only accelerate the spread of the virus, warns journalist Ivan Yakovyna on 24tv.ua:

“In recent days, crowds of people have been queuing up in pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations and shops. If only one of them is sick they will infect all those around them. ... The cleverest people in Wuhan didn't wait until the city was quarantined. They left before that. And of course no one knows where they are or how many of them are already infected. So the epidemic will almost certainly spread. ... The incubation period is almost a week. ... That means you can't tell a healthy person from an infected one. So we can all only hope now that the Chinese authorities can stop the epidemic in its early stages.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A grave encroachment on freedom rights

Lea Deuber, the Süddeutsche Zeitung's China correspondent, criticises not only Beijing but also the WHO for sealing off Wuhan:

“It's a disgrace that the World Health Organisation is readily supporting this serious encroachment on the freedom rights of millions of people. Nobody wants to get sick. But China is in a position to make such a decision because the people have no say. It is unworthy of the international community to exploit this. There is hardly an expert who considers the isolation of a city helpful. ... It would have made sense to call on people to stay at home. Now they are storming hospitals because they can no longer gauge how dangerous the virus really is. Isolation has not protected people. It has put them in danger.”

Delo (SI) /

WHO is underestimating globalisation

Delo is also unhappy about the World Health Organization's decision not to declare an international emergency:

“Unfortunately it's becoming clearer every day that the World Health Organization, which played an important role in containing the Sars virus, has made a serious mistake this time. The world has become small in times of globalisation. Even if there are so many who oppose globalisation, it has long since brought us together. ... We're all coughing in each other's faces. If the WHO has not yet declared the virus an emergency out of consideration for China, China now has a responsibility to do the opposite and take a stand for caution. If it's not too late for that already.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

An almost impossible task

The lockdown of Wuhan could prove impracticable and inadequate, Echo of Moscow's Asia correspondent Vasily Golovnin fears:

“The scale of the epidemic is likely to be more serious than the number of known cases indicates. The disease can even be transmitted to doctors wearing masks and gloves. And on 24 January masses of Chinese will set off on their travels around the country and abroad for the New Year. The holidays last until the end of the month. Nobody knows how the epidemic will spread within China or internationally. It's true that the big city of Wuhan, where it all began, is under strict quarantine. But sealing off a 'settlement' with 10 million inhabitants and a surrounding area with twice as many is not likely to be an easy task even for the resolute Chinese leadership.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Flu a greater risk than the Wuhan virus

Europeans shouldn't panic over the new coronavirus from the Chinese city of Wuhan, says the Tages-Anzeiger:

“Our fear of epidemics also has historical roots. Devastating plague epidemics decimated Europe's population several times in the Middle Ages. It is estimated that over a third of Europeans died of plague in the 14th century. And at the beginning of the 20th century the Spanish flu killed more people in autumn 1918 than the four-year First World War. Vigilance is always called for with a new virus, but in this case, panic is not. The risk in Switzerland of coming down with a severe flu this winter is much higher than that of catching the new coronavirus.”

The Economist (GB) /

A lot has improved since the SARS outbreak

China's response to the coronavirus outbreak shows that the world is better prepared than ever before to deal with potential pandemics, writes The Economist:

“The Chinese have been forthcoming and competent about the outbreak. Doctors in Wuhan, the metropolis where it began, promptly sounded an alarm about an unusual cluster of cases of pneumonia - following a standard protocol for spotting new viruses. Chinese scientists quickly isolated the pathogen and shared its genomic details with the world. Back in the days of Sars, genetic sequencing like this took weeks. With today's technology it can be done in hours. The genomic data can help scientists spot cases quickly, both in China and abroad.”