UCA News


China's coronavirus censorship 'cost lives'

Reporters Without Borders claims press freedom in China could have helped avoid a pandemic

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: March 27, 2020 09:38 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
China's coronavirus censorship 'cost lives'

A police officer stands guard outside Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. Authorities hid the fact that initial cases of coronavirus were linked to the market in Wuhan, says Reporters Without Borders. (Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP)

Share this article :
The Covid-19 pandemic might have been avoided and thousands of lives saved if China had a free press, according to a media campaign group.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) gathered evidence from various studies and reviewed events in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan during December and January to make its case.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party controls and censors news media in a country ranked 177 out of 180 on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index

RSF claims that without such censorship “the Chinese media would have informed the public much earlier of the seriousness of the epidemic, saving thousands of lives and possibly avoiding the current pandemic.”

Authorities hid the fact that initial cases of coronavirus were linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, the group said.

If they had informed the media, RSF says, the public “would have stopped visiting this place long before its official closure on January 1.”

The group said that severe penalties for journalists’ sources, which can include heavy prison sentences, was partly responsible for keeping new and crucial information about the outbreak out of the news.

Dr. Lu Xiaohong, the head of gastroenterology at Wuhan City Hospital, could have alerted the media about the virus transmitting between humans if this deterrent had not been in place. This eventually happened three weeks after the hospital began hearing of cases of staff being infected.

When China officially alerted the World Health Organization about the epidemic on Dec. 31, it censored keywords referring to the coronavirus on popular social network We Chat.

Had it not done so, journalists could have used the platform to broadcast reports and precautionary advice, RSF said.

The first case of a coronavirus infection outside China, involving a tourist from Wuhan, was reported in Thailand on Jan. 13.

“If the international media had had full access to information held by the Chinese authorities on the scale of the epidemic before January 13, it is likely that the international community would have taken stock of the crisis and better anticipated it, reducing the risk of the epidemic spreading outside China and possibly avoiding its transformation into a pandemic,” RSF said.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM


Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."