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China's Initial Slow Reaction To Coronavirus Is The Real Problem


China's slow reaction to the coronavirus has created a potentially very serious global health situation. 


Authorities in China have now gone into overdrive by sealing off the city of Wuhan which is at the epicentre of the health crises, as well as the surrounding Hubei province, cutting off an estimated 60 million people from the rest of China.


Professor Stephen Chan, Director of the China Institute at the University of London said in an interview that China mishandled the crises. He pointed out that authorities were aware of the virus over a month ago in early December 2019. At the time, the outbreak was restricted to a market in Wuhan.


The Chinese authorities could have culled all the livestock in that market, disinfected the whole area and quarantined just the city. The move would have cost millions of pounds but might have contained and ended the spread of the virus.


Things went downhill because China's political system does not allow local authorities to act independently, even when the health of local citizens is at risk. Local authorities always defer to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing.


In the absence of instructions from Beijing, local officials in Wuhan were not prepared to take any kind of action that would have attracted negative international attention to China. They were worried about headlines about China as the source of yet another major infection after SARS in 2002.


The inadequate reaction by Chinese authorities has led to the latest toll of at least 56 people dead and 2,000 infected as the government struggles to prevent the virus from spreading.

It is unclear whether the drastic measures taken by China to contain the virus will work. The situation was already underway by mid-December last year, which means that potentially, many infected people have already carried the virus beyond ground zero.


In addition to the human cost to China is the economic impact starting with the travel restrictions, which will affect transport and travel companies, at a time millions of Chinese should have been on the move because of the Chinese New Year.

This should have been a period of high consumer spending on entertainment and gifts because of the New Year holiday, but the restrictions and high possibility of infection will lead to people curtailing such activities. Some analysts have suggested that if the virus continues to spread, and is not contained with about three months, then it could potentially shave up to 2 per cent off China's GDP growth rate.

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