Relatives of Wuhan’s coronavirus, who died on Wednesday, said Chinese authorities had deleted their social media group and pressured them to remain silent while a World Health Organization team is in town to investigate the causes of the pandemic.
Numerous relatives have teamed up online to collectively seek liability from Wuhan officials who hold them responsible for the abuse of the outbreak that struck the city a year ago.
Efforts have so far been thwarted by official obstruction, surveillance of social media groups and intimidation, relatives say.
In recent days, however, pressure has increased to appear to suppress criticism and avoid embarrassment during the highly sensitive WHO investigation.
A group on the WeChat social media platform used by 80 to 100 family members over the past year was suddenly deleted about 10 days ago with no explanation, said Zhang Hai, a group member and a vocal critic of the outbreak’s treatment.
“This shows that (Chinese authorities) are very nervous. They fear that these families will come into contact with WHO experts,” said Zhang, 51, whose father died early from the suspected Covid-19 pandemic.
The WHO experts arrived in Wuhan on January 14 and are expected to emerge from a 14-day quarantine on Thursday.
“When WHO arrived in Wuhan, (authorities) forcibly demolished (the group). As a result, we lost contact with many members,” added Zhang.
Other relatives confirmed the deletion of the group. WeChat is operated by the Chinese digital giant Tencent.
Popular platforms routinely censor content that the government has deemed objectionable.
“Same old melody”
Relatives accuse the Wuhan and Hubei provincial governments of causing Covid-19 to spiral out of control by trying to hide the outbreak when it first appeared in the city in December 2019, then failed to alert the public and botched the response.
According to official Chinese figures, nearly 3,900 people were killed in Wuhan, the vast majority of the 4,636 deaths that China has reported.
Many loved ones distrust these numbers, saying the fact that testing was barely done in the chaotic early days of the outbreak likely resulted in many dying without confirmation that they had the disease.
So far, more than two million people have died worldwide.
While China has largely controlled the pandemic on its soil, it has foiled independent attempts to trace its origins.
Instead, it has tried to divert the blame for the dire global human and economic toll by pointing out, without evidence, that it originated elsewhere.
A team of WHO virus experts was finally allowed to go to Wuhan two weeks ago.
Her highly watched investigation into the origins of the virus is due to begin on Thursday under tight security.
Another family member, a retiree, who says her adult daughter died of the virus last January, told AFP she was summoned by authorities last week and warned against “speaking to media or being used by others” .
The authorities came to her door on Tuesday, “and sang the same old tune and gave me 5,000 yuan ($ 775) in condolences,” she added, asking for anonymity.
The Communist Party government is stifling anything that reflects its governance in a bad light, and the early days of the outbreak remain one of the most sensitive issues in China to this day.
Several relatives in Wuhan have tried to file lawsuits for compensation and punishment against officials, but the courts have refused to accept them.
The Wuhan government has repeatedly failed to respond to AFP questions about the families and their demands.
Zhang urged WHO experts to “boldly” meet relatives, saying investigators are likely to be misled or hindered by Chinese authorities.
He said the families’ hard-earned knowledge of how the virus played out could aid the investigation, although he acknowledged that such a meeting was highly unlikely.
The virus is believed to have originated in bats and originally spread from a humid market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold as food.
But little else is known.
Another theory, expanded upon by former US President Donald Trump, is that she leaked a laboratory in Wuhan where researchers were studying coronaviruses.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)