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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

Coronavirus, and Thailand’s property market

The Thaiger

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Coronavirus, and Thailand’s property market | The Thaiger

The Coronavirus outbreak poses challenges for Thailand’s real estate market as potential Chinese condominium buyers remain stranded in China. Analysts believe Chinese condominium transfers in 2020 will be at least 25% lower than average because of the challenges. Meanwhile, some believe that the outbreak may bring opportunities for non-Chinese buyers and in the long-run, the Chinese may be looking for an overseas refuge in the event of these types of emergencies.

Market remains weak

The pandemic, which started in China, is hurting the condominium market as Chinese nationals account for half of the international buyers in Thailand, or 57.6% of the total foreign condo owners in 2018.

Vichai Viratkapan, acting director-general of the Real Estate Information Centre says that 50% of Chinese condo transfers are expected to disappear in the first 2 quarters of this year and the total transfer value by the Chinese will miss the mark of the usual 29 billion baht by about 25% (around 7 billion).

However, since Chinese property buyers only make up 6% of the total international and domestic housing transfers in Thailand, the total housing transfer number in the country is likely to be similar to last year.

Thailand adjusts GDP growth target due to coronavirus

On Monday (February 17), the Office of the National Economics and Social Development Council said Thailand’s GDP growth rate is predicted to be about 2% this year, a record low in the last 6 years. They forecast the rate will be achieved if the pandemic ends before April or May, tourist arrivals reach 37 million, and the world economic growth grows 3.2%, among other factors. Otherwise…

The Chinese are reluctant to complete transfers

The virus has continued to affect hospitality operators, including hotels and condominiums that service tourists, nationwide. Since China has suspended tours, put restrictions on movement, and locked down cities, home to over millions of people, it also poses a threat to real estate developers as their clients are unable or unwilling to fly.

“Currently multiple off-plan condominium developments are approaching completion, and Chinese clients are unable or unwilling to transfer. Chinese clients who made a reservation in Q4 2019 are requesting a refund and withholding their investment,” said Marciano Bijmohun, Business Development Director at FazWaz Property Group.

He believes every condominium that is in transfer status will see the percentage of non-transfer units rise in the coming months.

“These non-transfer units will cause a big financial hit to developers.”

If a client refuses to transfer, does not comply with the terms and conditions stipulated in the sales and purchase agreement, and decides to release the property, their deposits will be forfeited.

“However, there is some good news, these non-transferred units can be offered with a discount to new clients.”

Also, as China has been susceptible to a few disease outbreaks – from bird flu and swine fever and the current coronavirus – it may prompt Chinese buyers to look for second homes outside of China.

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Coronavirus

Israel travel ban rankles Thailand

Greeley Pulitzer

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Israel travel ban rankles Thailand | The Thaiger
PHOTO: A total of 137 people walk out of the quarantine facility at the Sattahip Naval Base in Chon Buri yesterday - Wichan Charoenkiatpakul, Bangkok Post

Thailand wants Israel to reconsider its decision, announced Tuesday, to ban Thais from entering the country in a bid to control the spread of deadly coronavirus (Covid-19). Israel banned all non-Israelis who have been in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau in the previous 14 days. Previously, Israel’s health ministry had imposed only a 14-day house quarantine on visitors from the four areas.

As a result of the ban, the Labour Ministry will be forced to postpone sending Thai workers to Israel under an employment cooperation project between the two countries. Pannabha Chandraramya, the Thai ambassador in Tel Aviv, met Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to explain Thailand’s measures to prevent and control coronarivus and clarify the outbreak situation in Thailand. Thailand hopes Israel will review the ban after learning about the measures, given the good relations between the countries.

The vast majority of virus cases are in China; only 35 cases have been confirmed in Thailand, 17 of whom have made full recoveries and been discharged from hospital. Thailand has had no fatalities related to the virus.

Israel travel ban rankles Thailand | News by The Thaiger

SCREENSHOT: Johns Hopkins CSSE

“Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs listened and understood. It will contact other agencies, particularly Israel’s Ministry of Public Health.”

Meir Shlomo, Israel’s ambassador to Thailand, told reporters yesterday that the Israeli Ministry of Health’s decision was aimed at preventing the spread of the Covid-19 to Israel. He says Israeli ministries are following developments closely and re-assessing the situation in Thailand and other countries and territories daily.

“No one knows at this stage how long the current situation will last.”

However, Schlomo says the two countries will “continue to share information and preserve a spirit of mutual confidence, as they have done in so many fields for so many years”

“Several thousand Thai tourists, businesspeople and workers in agriculture travel to Israel every year. We do hope they will all be able to reschedule their flights and travel to Israel in the very near future.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus

Three Thais on Yokohama virus ship have COVID-19 coronavirus

Greeley Pulitzer

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Three Thais on Yokohama virus ship have COVID-19 coronavirus | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Passengers disembark from the Diamond Princess - Euronews

Officials today announced that three Thai nationals aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, moored off Yokohama, are infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus, the same day two elderly Japanese passengers are reported to have died from the disease. Foreign affairs spokesman Cherdkiat Atthakor said three Thais, one passenger and two crew members, are now being treated in hospital in Japan.

“Their conditions are stable… Japan admitted them to hospital when their symptoms showed, before the test results were known.”

Cherdkiat says there were two Thai passengers and 23 Thai crew members on the Diamond Princess and the other passenger tested negative, has disembarked and will soon return to Thailand. The other 21 Thai crew members continue to work on board.

The 14-day quarantine of the cruise ship ended yesterday, and uninfected passengers are being allowed to disembark until tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Consular Affairs Department has warned Thais to leave mainland China “while there are still outgoing flights available.”

The department said on its Facebook page that people who do not need to stay in China should consider leaving while airlines are still flying out. It also advises against visiting China at this time.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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