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Dr Li Wenliang, the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, and failed censorship

The Thaiger

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Dr Li Wenliang, the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, and failed censorship | The Thaiger
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In a country where media, especially social media, is tightly controlled, the events surrounding the death of young doctor Li Wenliang have been particularly surprising. An outpouring of frustration, grief and anger, directed at the Chinese government, made its way onto the Chinese social media platforms and was shared by millions before, as expected, finally being taken down.

Such is the Great Firewall of China, that any critical social media is usually removed in quick time by an ‘army’ of censors said to be even larger than the physical Chinese Army – you know, the ones with guns and things that go BANG.

As the young doctor, whose early pleas were caught up amongst the early media flurry and other random videos coming out of Wuhan, was ailing in a hospital, a victim of the coronavirus, Chinese censors tried to actively diffuse his message, punish and discredit him. Until he actually died.

But let’s back up a month or so…

A young ophthalmologist in one of Wuhan’s hospitals alerted his peers and sent online messages about a mysterious new virus afflicting residents and starting to fill up hospital beds. He was subsequently arrested and punished for spreading “rumours” as the city’s government continued to downplay the dangers of the virus. His messages spoke of “the spread of a SARS-like virus”.

“I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful.”

Li was speaking from his hospital bed, having succumbed to coronavirus himself. On Friday morning, his condition worsened, and the 34 year old died, just another statistic out of the hundreds of fatalities from an outbreak that has spread well beyond Wuhan.

We now know the Wuhan government tried to actively stifle information in the early weeks of the outbreak, including the news that Li and other whistleblowers were being silenced. There have been countless medical staff, and even officials (including the Wuhan Mayor) who have since apologised for not reacting quickly enough and trying to control the flow of information.

It led to considerable anger amongst the Chinese citizenry and plenty of tut-tutting from western media. But central authorities were able to wrest back control of the narrative by allowing a rare transparency and access to information on what was going on, and giving Chinese media a free hand in covering the outbreak, a rare courtesy.

Dr Li Wenliang, the face of the Wuhan Coronavirus, and failed censorship | News by The Thaiger

Certainly over the past week the central authorities have re-tightened their grip on information, as they’ve also introduced unprecedented steps to control the virus, including complete lockdowns of entire cities. Much of the country remains on voluntary or mandatory quarantine. The fallout from the outbreak – the way it was handled medically and as news – will resonated in the Chinese psyche, and the economy, long after the spread of the virus is brought under control.

Speaking about the early whistle blowers who who trying to raise the alarm, before the virus had a name or had started to kill people, Dr Li’s peers and some officials are now acknowledging that their early warnings probably saved thousands of lives.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says… “In retrospect, we should highly praise them. They were wise before the outbreak.”

The reaction to Li’s death spread quickly across the Chinese internet. The comments came fast and furious, it was immediate and almost unprecedented.

“Are you angry? If any of us here is fortunate enough to speak up for the public in the future, please make sure you remember tonight’s anger.”

“Countless young people will mature overnight after today… the world is not as beautiful as we imagined.”

For a much longer time than usual, the people pulling levers that control the Great Firewall either didn’t know what to do, or simply couldn’t control the wave of frustration being tapped out on millions of Chinese smartphones.

Usually, anything vaguely controversial, or critical of the Chinese Government, communism, or even discussion about censorship, is quickly removed. This time the messages were circulating for many hours and were seen and shared by, probably, tens of millions.

Two hashtags were trending on the Weibo platform (Weibo is a Chinese-made combo of Twitter, Facebook and Line, all in one mega-platform).

“The Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology”

“We want freedom of speech”

Another hashtag, “I want freedom of speech,” had around 2 million views in the early hours of Friday, before it eventually vanished from Chinese screens as well.

The controlling of the narrative following his death was as clumsy as the earlier attempts to stifle Dr Li’s efforts of whistle-blowing.

Online state media outlets reported the doctor’s death late on Thursday night, quoting friends and peers at Wuhan Central Hospital. Then all references to the reports vanished without explanation. The hospital then claimed efforts were underway to resuscitate Li, but later issued a statement that he had died. The eventual confirmation came late at night, a PR tactic used by governments everywhere to announce things they don’t want noticed. But plenty of people were still awake.

“I knew you would post this in the middle of the night.”

“You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t.”

The fury came thick and fast as Chinese recognised the ham-fisted attempts at twisting the narrative and then misreporting and mishandling the doctor’s death.

“A doctor had to die twice,” wrote a user on WeChat.

“That is national humiliation.”

For a fleeting moment in China’s recent history the Great Firewall failed and the plight of of a plucky young doctor became the talk of China, spread quickly through social media, before it was stifled. But the discussions about his death, and what it means, continue around the water coolers of Chinese offices and the corridors of hospitals.

Li’s death and the authorities’ clumsy handling of the news, and the news about the Coronavirus generally, continues to exacerbate a crisis that is already rattling the stern communist foundations of the Chinese state. Beijing’s efforts to manage both the coronavirus, and the news about the virus, have laid bare the worst aspects of China’s governance under President Xi Jinping.

Dr Li Wenliang may well end up the face of the Wuhan or Chinese Coronavirus, a story of courage and pluck, and how his message pierced through the Great Firewall of China.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Dengue fever antibodies might contribute to Thailand’s low Covid-19 count

Caitlin Ashworth

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Dengue fever antibodies might contribute to Thailand’s low Covid-19 count | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Antibodies from dengue fever might raise immunity against Covid-19, according to study done in Brazil. It suggests a correlation between the mosquito transmitted illness and the coronavirus, citing lower Covid-19 cases in areas with past dengue outbreaks, like south east Asia. Thai doctor Manoon Leechawengwongs says this might be why Thailand has significantly less Covid-19 cases than other countries around the world.

Since the start of the outbreak, many scientists have been confused by south east Asia’s generally low infection rate and posited various theories about some local “immunity”.

Thailand has more than 100,000 dengue patients every year, he says, adding that many locals take the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis to prevent dengue. There have been 3,545 Covid-19 cases in Thailand with 59 deaths and 3,369 recoveries.

Duke University professor Miguel Nicolelis led the study and recently spoke to Reuters reporters about his findings. He says the study first focused on the spread of Covid-19 in Brazil and they came across the correlation between dengue and the coronavirus by accident. The study says areas in Brazil with high numbers of dengue infections had a comparatively low number Covid-19 cases while areas with low numbers of dengue cases had a high number of Covid-19 cases.

“This striking finding raises the intriguing possibility of an immunological cross-reactivity between dengue’s Flavivirus serotypes and SARS-CoV-2 … If proven correct, this hypothesis could mean that dengue infection or immunization with an efficacious and safe dengue vaccine could produce some level of immunological protection (against the coronavirus).”

Miguel adds past studies found that those with dengue antibodies can falsely test positive for Covid-19.

“This indicates that there is an immunological interaction between two viruses that nobody could have expected, because the two viruses are from completely different families.”

The study was posted on MedRxiv, but has not yet been peer reviewed. Manoon warns that Thai people should still abide by coronavirus prevention measures to prevent a possible second wave.

Click HERE to read the study on how dengue fever may have influenced the spread of Covid-19 in Brazil.

SOURCES: Reuters | Nation Thailand|Worldometer

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22 new cases of Covid-19 detected in Thailand

The Thaiger

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22 new cases of Covid-19 detected in Thailand | The Thaiger

The Thai government’s CCSA has reported another 22 new cases of Covid-19 this morning, raising the country’s total of infections to 3,545. The vast majority of these have recovered – 3,369. The death toll is unchanged at 59 people.

The new cases have come from imported cases, returnees and visitors, and became apparent whilst they were in quarantine during routine tests. The people have arrived from South Sudan, 4 people from India, 1 from Pakistan and 1 from the Philippines.

22 cases is the largest number of daily cases announced in a 24 hour period since April 5 this year when Thailand was emerging from its first wave.

22 new cases of Covid-19 detected in Thailand | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: worldometers.info

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Thai medic cautions against reducing quarantine period for foreign tourists

Maya Taylor

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Thai medic cautions against reducing quarantine period for foreign tourists | The Thaiger
PHOTO: AFP

On one side there is a push to re-open Thailand’s borders to re-start the beleaguered tourist industry. On the other hand Thai officials are try to keep Covid-19 contained and fear the re-opening of the borders. Even the suggestion to reduce the quarantine time from 14 to 7 days is not gaining support from health officials.

Now, a doctor from the Faculty of Medicine at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University says reducing the quarantine period for foreign tourists would be inviting disaster. Dr. Thira Woratanarat made his statement after a suggestion from the Tourism and Sports Minister that quarantine could be halved if all goes well when Thailand re-opens its borders to a limited number of foreign tourists.

“In Thailand, if we decide to follow the proposal to reduce the quarantine time to 7 days, it would be an invitation to disaster.”

Thira points to a growing number of cases in many parts of the world, with around 350,000 new cases a day reported worldwide. The number of total deaths from the virus has now reached the 1 million mark.

For its part, the government says Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn’s proposal is not under consideration and that all foreign tourists will still be subject to mandatory 14 day quarantine. Officials say until the global pandemic situation improves, current restrictions remain in place.

A plan is underway to allow a limited number of foreign tourists to return to the Kingdom under a Special Tourist Visa scheme. The visa is due to be approved today when PM Prayut Chan-o-cha chairs a meeting of the government’s Covid-19 task force.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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