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The coronavirus pandemic has elicited some strange jealousy for China’s authoritarianism. “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history,” declared a Feb. 28 World Health Organization report. The argument is that the unchecked power of the Chinese government is a main reason the country has successfully slowed—and perhaps even stopped—domestic transmission of the virus. Some commentators even claim that China will emerge from the crisis a stronger global power, and that the U.S. will need its help to recover.
These claims are misleading. More to the point, neither China nor its style of authoritarian government will help America overcome the crisis, restore economic growth, and protect citizens from infectious diseases.
The first case of the new coronavirus in China can be traced to Nov. 17, according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post. New cases were reported by health authorities each day thereafter in November. Rather than share this information with the world, Chinese Communist Party officials suppressed discoveries and even punished the doctors who first reported them.
Li Wenliang warned fellow doctors in late December of a new disease that resembled SARS. He was reprimanded by Chinese police, accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order,” and made to admit to “illegal behavior.” Li then contracted the coronavirus and died on Feb. 7 at 33.