Amid Deadly Virus Outbreak, China Tried to Hold World’s Largest Banquet

WUHAN, CHINA - FEBRUARY 09: Neighborhood residents sit around a table full of homemade dishes on February 9, 2018 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Community residents cook thousands of dishes and invite neighbours to have a taste, learn from others' cooking skills and to send blessing to each other on …
Wang He/Getty

The outbreak of the Wuhan virus has become a major political problem for China’s dictator Xi Jinping as accusations of bureaucratic paralysis, reckless policies, and dangerous secrecy fly within China and around the world.

On Thursday, the mayor of Wuhan noted that a huge banquet with over 130,000 guests was held on Sunday, days before the Chinese government suddenly reversed course and quarantined the city.

Channel News Asia noted Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang has been criticized for handling the virus outbreak badly. He responded by complaining that he and other local officials were not given adequate warning, so they proceeded with events such as a massive banquet in the Baibuting district of Wuhan.

“The reason why the Baibuting community continued to host the Banquet this year was based on the previous judgment that the spread of the epidemic was limited to humans, so there was not enough warning,” Zhou said, evidently meaning that early assessments said the Wuhan virus was not spread by human contact.

The banquet in question was a jaunty event presented as an early celebration of Lunar New Year, which begins this weekend. The annual banquet, now in its 20th year, allegedly featured almost fourteen thousand different dishes prepared by attendees and sponsors, a feat organizers hoped would set a world record for most dishes served at a single meal. Smaller versions of the Baibuting banquet in previous years set Guinness records.

“Having a big event like this at a time of an epidemic amounts to a lack of basic common sense,” Shanghai respiratory disease specialist Li Xinzhou remarked dryly to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. 

The Journal noted that some of China’s top epidemiologists arrived in Wuhan on the same day the banquet was held and made the determination that the coronavirus was indeed spreading from humans to humans, instead of being spread entirely by animals as previously believed. In fact, they determined a single Wuhan virus patient was able to infect over a dozen medical staff. While they were reaching this conclusion, thousands of people were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the Baibuting banquet and feasting on a wide variety of meats.

“People close to the Wuhan government, including advisers and business executives with which it consults, said officials remained overly optimistic that the outbreak would be contained while they focused on other priorities, including annual Communist Party meetings there,” the Journal wrote.

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