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China shuts down Mt. Everest route amid coronavirus epidemic

mt everest china side (Eknbg/Pixabay)
March 15, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China has shut down permits for Mt. Everest amid the coronavirus epidemic, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda message focuses on ‘imported cases’ of COVID-19.

Beijing has canceled permits for the Chinese side of the mountain, although the Nepal side remains open for the time being, although the country has suspended arrivals from countries worst-hit by the coronavirus.

The authorities are meanwhile focusing media coverage — all of which is tightly controlled by Beijing — on other countries that are struggling with outbreaks of COVID-19.

Unconfirmed reports on social media said local and regional health authorities are being told to stop reporting new cases unless they are in recent arrivals from overseas.

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While, RFA was unable to verify the content of those reports, health officials have reported COVID-10 cases in recent arrivals from the U.K., Italy and Iran in recent weeks.

Guangdong-based rights activist Wang Aizhong said that the authorities, at the very least, appear to be emphasizing imported cases in official media reports.

“The goal is still to make much of the superiority of China’s [authoritarian] system and the decision-making abilities of its government,” Wang said. “Of course, we can’t rule out the possibility that there could be a resurgence of the epidemic in China, so they will be able to blame other countries for that.”

Shifting the narrative

The Chinese Communist Party typically argues that its authoritarian rule is better in time of crisis, because it enables the government to act decisively to shut down huge swathes of the country.

There are also signs that Beijing is seeking to shift the narrative away from the fact that the first outbreak of COVID-19 was in its central city of Wuhan, in spite of there being no trace of it recorded outside China before that time.

Zhong Nanshan, director of the Chinese Medical Research Center for Respiratory Diseases, told a news conference on Feb. 27: “We can say that the epidemic first appeared in China, but it didn’t necessarily originate in China.”

Official media is also focusing on aid and humanitarian assistance to Italy, where services are struggling to cope with a sudden and overwhelming surge in COVID-19 cases amid a nationwide lockdown.

China on Thursday dispatched a brand new A350 Eastern Airlines jet with nine medical experts and 31 tons of medical supplies from the Chinese Red Cross to Italy’s anti-epidemic expert group.

The plane flew directly from Shanghai to Rome, and carried supplies including ICU equipment, protective equipment and antiviral agents, reports said.

Media reports also highlighted a video conference call between health minister Ma Xiaowei and World Health Organization (WHO) officials, during which he “shared China’s experience in resisting the epidemic.”

Promoting traditional Chinese medicine

Beijing-based freelance writer Wang Zang said the truth is that the pandemic was caused by local officials who tried to cover up what was known about the virus at the start of the outbreak in Wuhan in mid-December.

“The truth is becoming clear and the eyes of the world are being opened,” Wang said. “Any attempt to blame others or avoid responsibility will end in failure, and the rest of the world will eventually hold [China] to account.”

Top Chinese medical adviser Zhong Nanshan, a pulmonologist who discovered the SARS coronavirus and helped manage the outbreak in 2003, told the WHO on Thursday that if countries work together, the COVID-19 pandemic could be over by June.

But reports were emerging of a rift on the panel of experts in charge of managing the coronavirus outbreak in China, with Zhong reportedly dissenting from President Xi Jinping’s decree that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) should be used in tandem with mainstream medical approaches to tackle the virus.

The People’s Daily on Wednesday published a signed opinion article reiterating the need to integrate TCM with western medicine that has been widely reprinted by other publications and institutions.

Zhong, on the other hand, has been quoted as saying: “We do not expect TCM to have a strong antiviral effect.”

An unconfirmed social media post said on Wednesday that Zhong has since been replaced as director of the department of healthcare reform at the National Health Commission by Liang Wannian, who will lead a team that includes TCM specialists.

The post was deleted soon after it appeared online.