Resident Evil – Chinese communism?

Resident Evil – Chinese communism?

by Dr Sutherland MacNeill
article from Thursday 23, January, 2020

WUHAN, one of China's largest cities, has been put into full quarantine by the Chinese state. Eleven million people cannot leave their city until further notice. This has been done to help control the spread of a new coronavirus that has killed dozens of people and infected hundreds. It seems at first hand impressive but unlike in the film series, Resident Evil, the most dangerous threat I can see coming out of the Yangtze river valley is still an old one: Communism.

Resident Evil for those who don't yet know, is a film series centred around the containment of a deadly mutagenic T-virus by the use of deadly force and an amoral view of humanity. It features Michelle Rodriguez (pictured above) and Mila Jovovich who represent both a rogue computer system and humanity’s will to be free.

The virus emerges from a fictional Racoon City that must be isolated and possibly destroyed to contain its spread.

Back in the real world we have only known of the new virus for about a month. It is not mysterious though. It is a strain of the coronavirus that caused SARS 17 years ago and Mers-CoV in Asia more recently. It is not pandemic flu. It is not smallpox. It does however have the ability to infect anybody which is why it is so feared. It produces flu-like symptoms that are usually mild but can overwhelm the immune system of some, making them very ill.

Within one month is has been identified formally and its entire genome sequenced within China. That's impressive. So far only a handful of infections have escaped China, despite the boom in travel of the last 20 years. Coronaviruses have an incubation period of about two weeks. This is important because people will have left Wuhan to travel across China for the Spring Festival in three day’s time. This is where central authorities have realised that their regional party bosses have messed up rather badly.

Illegally traded animals in Wuhan's open air markets have infected the general public. No serious interventions were taken to prevent spread from Wuhan weeks ago when there was time to restrict travel before Spring Festival. Now Xi Jingping, China's Mr Big, is reacting. Shutting down a city of 11m after the horse has bolted smacks very much of old fashioned top down brute force crisis management.

Not so long along whole countries were isolated like this from the rest of the world. North Korea and Cuba still are. Only centralised dictatorships can do this effectively without any public discourse. There is nothing to suggest it will be effective beyond demonstrating to China's critics how quickly China can lock down millions of its own people at will.

With huge numbers of political prisoners now in concentration/educational camps in the far west and investigations into state-sanctioned organ harvesting bruising Beijing internationally, it doesn't seem all too wise locking in so many people. Then again it may be that Beijing simply sees every political issue as a nail to hammer. If the infection expands rapidly within the city without adequate infection control public sentiment could become very unpleasant – and very quickly.

This is not 2003. This is not pandemic flu. Beijing is still not being as open with the world as it ought to be, and with its own people even less so. Without sufficient information, the western world will continue to ponder how serious this infection is, from on a par with seasonal flu, to a deadly pandemic.

All we can be sure of is that it is still early days. We know shutting down global aviation, banning flights and what-not is an utter waste of time with this kind of infection. The best strategies have been shown to be getting on with life, taking the usual measures of handwashing regularly, and having enough capacity in our emergency system to handle potentially large numbers of infectious patients.  This is where the UK is in the worst position, given how routinely overworked our emergency care sector is across these islands.

Spare capacity is the one dish not on our menu. It needs to be. The UK should use this viral outbreak to stress test its own capability to respond because even if 2019-ncov (Wuhan flu) does not become a pandemic it is only a matter of time before one does arrive. Best we ready ourselves now.

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