China sends in military reinforcements for virus

Analysts warn failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak will lead to a "Chernobyl moment" for Chinese leadership, amid fears the virus could infect 60 per cent of the world's population if led to spread unchecked.

On Thursday, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced an extra 2600 military medical personnel would be sent to Wuhan to treat patients taking the total number of reinforcements to 4000.

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It comes amid growing criticism of Chinese authorities from both inside and outside the country, with many experts predicting the virus could become China's "Chernobyl moment".

The 1986 nuclear disaster in what is now Ukraine was exacerbated by a failure to admit mistakes, a culture of secrecy among leaders and incompetent handling of the fallout.

President Xi has kept a low profile during the virus outbreak, leading to speculation he is trying to create layers of bureaucracy on which to lay the blame.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Beijing nearly two weeks after the epidemic started. Picture: Liu Bin/Xinhua via AP, File.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Beijing nearly two weeks after the epidemic started. Picture: Liu Bin/Xinhua via AP, File.

But in China and abroad the demand for clear information is growing. Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and leader of opposition party Demosisto, Joshua Wong, said "by covering up the severity of pandemic with force & fear, #China has turned whole crisis into the Chernobyl disaster of the 21st century.

"China's still clamping down on coronavirus coverage as cases surge day by day," he tweeted.

"Under the surface, we see the powerlessness of power. Burnished by the personality cult, this rigid regime rules the people with fear and distrust. Beijing's iron-fist control on citizenry also makes it unresponsive to social grievance."






University of Chicago political scientist Dali Yang said "this is clearly a crisis of enormous proportions."

"Failure … will be blamed on the system and especially on Xi, who's staked out his personal leadership role," he told the South China Morning Post.

"It will be a crisis of Chernobyl proportions, especially because we will have to contend with the virus for years to come," Yang said.

"Those who have sustained losses, in particular, will be asking questions, as has happened before in the aftermath of a crisis."


So far nearly 60,000 people have contracted the disease that has been renamed COVID-19.

The vast majority are in mainland China with 1,367 deaths among 59,804 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei.

On Wednesday and Thursday World Health Orgainsiation (WHO) experts met in Geneva to discuss the global response.

Hong Kong's leading public health epidemiologist, Prof Gabriel Leung, told The Guardian that the main question was how many people each person can infect.

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Most experts thought each person would go on to transmit the virus to about 2.5 other people leading to an "attack rate" of 60-80 per cent, he said.

"Sixty per cent of the world's population is an awfully big number," Leung said.

WHO adviser Ira Longini also estimated there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.

He estimates each person passes the disease to between two and three people, and even if transmission was reduced by half around 30 per cent of the world's population could still catch it.

"Unless the transmissibility changes, surveillance and containment can only work so well," he told Reuters.

"Isolating cases and quarantining contacts is not going to stop this virus."

Fears have been raised about the spread of the disease in the UK following confirmation of a ninth case in London after it was first detected in York and Brighton.

The city of nearly nine million is a key transport hub and home to four major airports that could spread the disease quickly around the world.


On Thursday a 'pariah' cruise ship that has been stranded at sea for two weeks after being refused entry by four countries was allowed to dock in Cambodia.

The MS Westerdam was barred from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines amid fears the virus was on board despite none of the 1455 passengers and 802 crew having confirmed cases.

"Landed!" passenger Lydia Miller, who runs a small farm and inn in Washington State, exclaimed on Twitter.

"Thank you Cambodia! You believed in us when no one else would. We promise to spend lots of money in your country."

Once health checks and immigration procedures are completed, the passengers are to disembark and be taken to Sihanoukville airport, from where they will fly to the capital, Phnom Penh, to catch flights home.

Meanwhile passengers on board the Diamond Princess are entering the second week of their quarantine with 218 cases confirmed on board the ship that is hosting 3700 guests and crew.

Guests on board have spoken of flitting between moments of fun and soul-crushing boredom.

"We try to have an upbeat presentation and make sure that our attitude comes across that, we're not hurt, we're not in pain, … we're actually just enjoying ourselves," Paul Molesky, a 78-year-old potter, said in an interview. "It's been very nice."

"Now that we're here in quarantine we're getting so much attention. We never get that much attention at home," said his wife, 59-year-old Cheryl Molesky, a retired art and media teacher.

"Rather than just sit here and worry about, are we going to get the coronavirus, we decided to make the most of every day, and just forget about that for now. If it happens, it happens."

Guests are being confined to their rooms and have to clean their bathrooms and do their own laundry on board. Staff are under strict instructions not to post on social media and still have to share cabins.

The situation has led to fears of cross-infection on board. Kent State University's College of Public Health professor Tara Smith said the ship is not a hospital and may have already had environmental contamination when the quarantine began.

"I think this was done without a lot of thought to consequences of ongoing transmission within the ship and the mental health of the passengers," she said.