Chinese officials said there are no coronavirus patients in hospitals across Hubei province, whose capital, Wuhan, was the epicenter of the global pandemic. Many residents and netizens from elsewhere, however, remain skeptical of the government’s claim about Wuhan.
“Given the problem of information asymmetry we face, my gut feeling tells me that this zero-patient report is merely a political show after the authorities announced earlier that no treatment was necessary for recovered patients testing positive,” a Wuhan resident told VOA on Monday via a social messaging app.
The resident asked to be identified only as “Mr. Yang” for safety reasons.
A political show?
China puts on the political show because “the harm from shutting down the factories has caused a worse impact on the ruling regime than that from the virus itself,” Yang added.
Yang was referring to comments made by Jian Yahui, an official with China’s National Health Commission.
Jian on Friday said that the number of patients in Wuhan then stood at 47, more than 30 of whom had shown no symptoms but continued to test positive in nucleic acid tests.
These patients no longer need treatment, Jian said, according to a report in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper.
The report then cited Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the Pathogen Biology Department at the Wuhan University, saying that these patients wouldn’t be allowed to leave the hospital until two successive negative test results are obtained – a national discharge standard to ease public concerns. But on Monday, health authorities in Wuhan and Hubei both claimed to have zero coronavirus patients.
Official statistics showed that, as of Sunday, the province had a total of 68,128 patients, 4,512 of whom died from the disease while the remaining patients were discharged. Among them were 3,869 from Wuhan who succumbed to the infection. The city claimed to have zero severe patients on Friday and that the last of its 46,464 patients left the hospital on Saturday.
That triggered public concerns about those recovered patients who continued to test positive and whether they were infectious.
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site, the majority of netizens heralded both the city’s achievements in treating COVID-19 patients and China’s claim of success in combating the virus.
Wuhan residents skeptical
While some Wuhan residents have voiced skepticism, others have raised concerns about whether asymptomatic patients and recovered patients who test positive can spread the virus.
One user from Tibet wrote, “Please don’t play word game” and another from Shanghai said, “So soon?... Please reconfirm these figures. Don’t kick these patients out of the hospital just to show how good we are.”
One user from Wuhan said that, in his neighborhood, one recovered patient tested positive again recently while another said that he was ordered to work from home after two people from his neighborhood tested positive on Sunday.
Some netizens outside of Wuhan also voiced doubts.
“Am I the only one who feels there is a coverup?” one user wrote. Another said, “There’s no patient if the government says so. The disease is preventable and controllable if the government said there is no human-to-human transmission.”
Reports on the ground also ran contrary to the official figures.
A patient’s daughter surnamed Ho told U.S.-based The Epoch Times on Sunday that her family has been denied access to her ailing father, who remains in the hospital’s intensive care unit. She said that the family was told about her father's negative test results although no written test results were given to the family. Her father remains in an isolation ward for pneumonia-like symptoms. She also complained about the huge medical bill the hospital has asked the family to pay.
Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is from Shanghai and has been reporting from Wuhan since February 1. Zhang says she suspects the city’s claim to have zero hospitalized coronavirus patients is false.
“I came across a patient, who has tested negative nine times. But he keeps having a fever and his lungs continue to suffer from an inflammatory condition, according to his CT scan. What do you say about this? This zero-patient claim must be fake,” she said.
Meanwhile, a U.S.-based health rights campaigner says seven families who had loved ones die of COVID-19 had planned to file a lawsuit against the Wuhan government over its handling of the health crisis; but, Yang Zhanqing says two of the families called off their decision to pursue the legal action after local police’s repeated harassment and coercion.
Yang Zhanqing is a co-founder of China’s Chang Sha Funeng non-profit organization. Yang has been working with the Wuhan families since early March, attempting to file a class-action lawsuit against the local government.
“Most victims have had no experience in upholding their [health] rights. They were not prepared or aware that the authorities would resort to gangster-like and cruel tactics to pressure them into giving up. So, when that happened, they got terribly frightened and just gave up like that in a very short span of time,” Yang, who currently lives in the United States, told VOA over the phone.
The campaigner pledged to continue his fight for the remaining five families, which will now each file a lawsuit against the Wuhan government since a class action lawsuit in China requires at least a group of nine plaintiffs.
Justice will prevail only when the rights of these families are upheld with compensation made so the city government is held accountable, Yang said.