THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO /via REUTERS
Friday and Saturday are meant to be the most festive days of China's year. Instead they are stalked by fear and anxiety.
As the coronavirus outbreak centered in Wuhan has spread, ordinary Chinese people are increasingly turning of local officials — a rare step in the authoritarian nation.
They cite hardship from a massive, 12-city lock down, as well as a complacent early response from officials.
Many are calling on the central government in Beijing to intervene.
Such an outbreak is a challenge for Chinese authorities, and has hamstrung the government in the past.
#NewYear'sEveInICU was the top trend on Chinese social media Friday on what is usually the most festive day of the year.
According to the Guardian, the gallows-humor hashtag topped the Twitter-like Weibo platform as China entered the Lunar New Year, a grim reminder of a fast-spreading viral outbreak.
Novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV as it is known scientifically, has killed 41, sickened nearly 1,300, and spread to 12 countries.
The trend is also an example of frustrations bubbling over on China's social media, including the microblogging site Weibo and the app WeChat.
Those frustrations are being lobbed at local government, despite the censorship regime which makes criticizing anybody in power a risky business.
"Can you please send a responsible leader to Hubei?" reads a comment on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, the Guardian reported, seemingly calling for China's central Communist Party to intervene from Beijing.
The comments are a sign that the government's quarantine of 35 million people across 12 cities could backfire, as both the healthy and the infected remain cut off from the outside.
"The first and golden rule of public health is you have to gain the trust of the population," said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University who spoke to The Washington Post. He said the extreme measure is instead likely to "drive the epidemic underground."
The virus is thought to have originated at a wet market in Wuhan, a city of roughly 11 million in the Hubei province. The first case was reported in December.
Wuhan, where a majority of the cases have been located, has been quarantined since Thursday. Travel in or out is prohibited to stop the spread, and authorities have made it mandatory to wear protective masks. Eleven more cities were added to the lock-down on Friday.
Wuhan's mayor admitted this week that initial "warnings were not sufficient" — and understated acknowledgement that the early phase of the outbreak was botched.
Officials initially said the virus could not be transmitted from human to human. Screenings were also not immediately put into place.
But with the spread, central government is trying to seize back momentum.
On Monday, President Xi Jinping stressed "the importance of informing the public to safeguard social stability." Major attractions including Disneyland in Shanghai and the Forbidden City were closed, and Lunar New Year celebrations were cancelled.
The virus is a dangerous challenge for China's leaders, historian Maura Cunningham told the Guardian: "The coronavirus is a problem for the Chinese Communist party because the CCP has historically not handled epidemics and other large-scale disasters well.
"The party has shown a knee-jerk tendency to clamp down on information and not be forthcoming with accurate statistics."
In 2002 and 2003, the SARS epidemic sickened 8,000 and killed 744 — an outbreak that was also born in China. The government largely tried to cover up the illness until a whistleblower revealed the true scale of the disease.
There are signs that the government has learned from the SARS epidemic. This week the Worth Health Organization said the Chinese government was being cooperative and transparent with the organization.
However, as Wuhan faces shortages of hospital supplies and protective gear, plus overcrowding at medical facilities, discontent is beginning to foment online.
The New York Times cited multiple instances of frustration posted to Sina Weibo: "I hope the central government can take over before dawn," one commenter wrote. "It's almost like anarchy."
"Wuhan's party secretary and governor cannot soothe the people's anger," another wrote.
The perceived incompetence of local officials is contrasted unfavorably with support for medical professionals on the front line.
In response to an image shared by doctors, The Times reported that one commenter said, "The Wuhan government is not worthy of such good medical staff."
Read the original article on Business Insider