Few can doubt China’s economic progress in the last decade. The country’s state-controlled economy has more than doubled, and some of its technology companies compete with the US global giants. When the coronavirus epidemic erupted, questions started to be asked whether China acted in time to alert the global medical authorities about the seriousness of this outbreak.

When the coronavirus first appeared in the city of Wuhan on December 8, the health authorities took more than three weeks to issue a notice. Valuable time that could have led to the immediate global cooperation to limit the spread of the virus was lost.

The Chinese ambassador to Malta, Jiang Jiang, argues that the Chinese authorities acted speedily when the epidemic broke out. A hospital with 1,000 beds was built in only 10 days. The ambassador comments that dealing with coronavirus is a battle, a race against time, and these trying times have attested to the ‘Chinese Speed’.

When such global health threats erupt governments take every measure to inform and reassure their citizens about the facts relating to such risks. They also need to tell their international colleagues what is known or yet unknown about the epidemic. Global health threats can only be defeated by international cooperation.

The extent of the coronavirus epidemic is now well known and still evolving. The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak as a global health emergency, and there is a substantial risk that it may spread rapidly to countries with weak health systems especially in Africa. A few patients have also tested positive to coronavirus in Europe.

The EU has called a meeting of member states health ministers to discuss ways of dealing with this emergency. Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic argues that “Now is the time to join forces to stop the epidemic. The entire international community must focus on preparedness and re-sponse efforts to fight coronavirus, keeping internationals solidarity in mind”.

Unfortunately, some shoddy coronavirus studies are spreading on the internet and some tabloid newspapers are spreading unnecessary panic. Unscientific reporting aimed to attract readership at all costs can be as dangerous as official cover-ups. The Chinese Ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, was right when he said in a recent interview that panic could be a more fearful adversary than the virus itself.

The effect of this epidemic is already being felt in the global economy. China will, understandably, be the worst hit as the number of Chinese workers affected by the virus keeps rising. Air transport to and from China is also heavily restricted to prevent the spread of the disease in Europe and other continents. With the global economy still struggling to gain momentum, the onset of the coronavirus epidemic will make global economic growth more difficult in 2020.

WHO has praised China’s response to coronavirus for setting a “new global standard”. But China’s openness to disseminating information will continue to come under scrutiny. Some epidemiologists argue that the quarantining of entire cities may not have been necessary had international health cooperation been triggered earlier.

Controlling information, suppressing dissent and restricting access to free information will not help control the disease – an objective that should be shared by all countries. Misinformed speculation in a section of Western media is equally damaging in the battle against coronavirus.

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