China triumphant one yr after Wuhan lockdown

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China triumphant one year after Wuhan lockdown

Photo credit: CC0 Public Domain

"People Supremacy, Life Supremacy" reads a sign on a Wuhan exhibition where visitors are greeted with praise for China's triumph over the pandemic and the agility of its communist leadership in a crisis.

Saturday marks a year since a 76-day lockdown began in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first discovered before it swept the world, killing more than two million people.

With China's official death toll from the virus below 5,000, Beijing is in a prolonged victory lap to further its tale about how it contained COVID-19, made vaccines and restarted its economy.

China posted 2.3 percent GDP growth in 2020 this week – the slowest in decades, but still the only major economy to post positive numbers during the pandemic.

When the official data was released, the state media trumpeted the "resilience and vitality" of the Chinese economy.

In Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, scenes of relaxation, freedom to travel and safety contrast this week with the rolling locks, rising death rates and overwhelmed health services in many other parts of the world.

Buyers cavort in the damp markets of Wuhan, older dancers rehearse in the parks and bars sell craft beer "Wuhan Stay Strong".

China's virus history is extravagantly retold in the Wuhan exhibition hall.

Visitors are set back to early last year when they paid tribute to the medics, army and authorities who fought the virus from scratch.

The rooms are adorned with communist flags and party messages while videos celebrate health workers and the makeshift hospitals that were built in record time.

President Xi Jinping benevolently presides over the hall in life-size photos, unmistakably the marshal of the virus response.

Many in Wuhan are sticking closely to official history, especially with a World Health Organization expert team ready to begin fieldwork to determine the origins of the virus.

"Wuhan had a tough year in 2020," Wang Chen, a 20-year-old resident, told AFP outside the exhibition, adding that China "weathered the crisis very well."

China was hit by international criticism of cover-ups and bungling in the first few weeks of the outbreak and blocked the WHO team from visiting for months.

Beijing uses their much-belated trip as an opportunity to beautify its history.

"It's time to prove Wuhan's innocence," Wang said, citing official narratives that have tried to blame the virus in other countries.

Unity and resilience

Outside of China, the view of Beijing's virus response is less positive.

Last October, a study by the Pew Research Center found that Western views of China turned sour during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the most critical were Americans, whose outgoing President Donald Trump started the guilt game and called COVID-19 the "China virus".

The criticism has been repeated by Australia and Europe and questions about China's lack of transparency remain unanswered.

For its part, China has tried to punish Australia for its efforts to speed up an investigation into the origins of the virus.

On Tuesday, a group of independent experts said both China and WHO could have done more to avert the disaster that followed.

"There was a chance early signs were responding more quickly," said the independent panel on pandemic preparedness and response.

Failing to convince its critics in the western world, China has reached out to poorer allies from Southeast Asia to Africa and promised to share vaccines at a reasonable price.

Inside China, the communist leadership was busy painting its version of events for domestic consumption.

In September, Xi presented pandemic health workers medals and welcomed China's passing of an "exceptional and historic test" as much of the world continued to experience high rates of infection.

Whistleblowers silenced when the outbreak occurred in Wuhan have been renamed as patriots as the communist leadership is making a national effort to quell the virus.

A government-sponsored documentary "Days and Nights in Wuhan" is due to hit the cinemas on Friday. Hundreds of free demonstrations are planned across the country.

The film is directed by Cai Jinling, whose online résumé states that she worked for the Beijing Public Security Bureau for nearly a decade.

A review posted on the film's official page on Chinese social media platform Weibo assures viewers that it will overcome the death and panic of those first chaotic weeks of the crisis.

"Instead, it gives the impression of … coping with the power of love," the review said.

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© 2021 AFP

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