Beijing has begun sacking local officials in Hubei province over the coronavirus outbreak, including two Communist Party officials who left a teenager with cerebral palsy without care for six days while his family was placed in quarantine. The teenager died as a result of this neglect.
The South China Morning Post reported on Thursday that the victim, Yan Cheng, was 16 years of age at the time of his death. The government of Hongan county, where he lived, issued a report on Saturday that said village officials and local doctors “did not try their hardest to fulfill their duty of care and responsibilities” for him. The mayor of Huajiahe village and its Communist Party secretary were fired, while a number of other officials were told to expect disciplinary measures.
Shortly before Yan Cheng died, his quarantined father Yan Xiaowen was confirmed to be suffering from the Wuhan coronavirus.
“I have two disabled sons. My older son Yan Cheng has cerebral palsy. He cannot move his body, he cannot speak or look after himself. He has already been at home by himself for six days, with nobody to bathe him or change his clothes and nothing to eat or drink,” Yan Xiaowen wrote on social media on January 28. His plea for help was later deleted.
Another post on social media from a support group said Cheng’s aunt was struggling to take care of him, but she was too sick to render all of the care he needed. After Cheng died, Chinese internet users expressed fury at the officials who failed to take proper care of him.
Hu Lishan, deputy secretary of the Communist Party in the city of Wuhan, apologized on Wednesday for the shortage of treatment options and hospital space.
“The public has criticized us a lot … Why? It was because some of our work was not done well. What have we not done well? At present, the contradiction between supply and demand of hospital beds has remained conspicuous,” Hu conceded at a press conference.
“Honestly, we are in pain and feel regrettable that a lot of the patients who have been confirmed infected or were suspected to have contracted the coronavirus were unable to receive proper treatment at hospitals. This problem definitely has remained unresolved,” he added.
The mayor of Wuhan and its Communist Party chief offered to take responsibility for the virus outbreak and resign last month, prompting speculation they would be the “obvious fall guys” for the crisis, as CNN put it.
“Our names will live in infamy, but as long as it is conducive to the control of the disease and to the people’s lives and safety, Comrade Ma Guoqiang and I will bear any responsibility,” Mayor Zhou Xianwang said, in a spirited audition for fall guy. He was still giving press conferences the following weekend, so he does not seem to have landed the role just yet.
The Chinese people are not only displeased with the government’s handling of the virus outbreak but of the secondary economic crises radiating from it, as quarantines and travel restrictions hammer businesses and leave workers without income.
While the central government issues improbably rosy projections about economic resilience and sustained growth, the truth reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Thursday is that small- and medium-sized Chinese businesses are forecasting revenue losses of up to 50 percent in the coming year, while over half of larger firms expect revenue losses of 20 percent or more, and 22 percent of them are already planning to cut payrolls due to the Wuhan virus epidemic.
Chinese workers know what that means for their future. The SCMP reported:
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, a woman living in Shenzhen said her anxiety about her financial future was greater than her worry about contracting the virus. With most people staying home to avoid contracting the virus, her husband, a taxi driver, was no longer able to earn enough money to cover the expense of renting the taxi, let alone make enough to support the family. The rent for their home, though, and the fee for her son’s kindergarten tuition were still due, even as food prices had grown more expensive due to supply shortages.
“Living like this is too difficult. My husband goes out [to work] every day and is worried about getting infected with the virus. Still, he has to go out due to the pressures of life. We didn’t return to my hometown for the [Lunar New Year] holiday this year [to stay and] make more money. Now we have to take money from our own [savings] to pay for the taxi rental fee,” she wrote.
A small-business owner said he lost all his money during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2002-2003, but worked hard for more than a decade to save and was finally able to open a furniture factory in 2018, and his business was beginning to prosper before the coronavirus hit.
“Do I have to be a loser all my life?” he lamented.
Analysts warned the SCMP about the danger of Chinese migrating to urban areas in pursuit of job opportunities, only to find themselves stranded as employers cut back or close down, and coronavirus travel restrictions make it difficult to return home.