How Was The Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Turned Into a Political Show? — Dr. Lin Xiaoxu
Zooming InSimone Gao

Narration: Two months into the Wuhan Coronavirus Epidemic…

Dr. Lin Xiaoxu: If you look in the Chinese media on the CCTV, you’ll still see maybe 99% of the reports regarding the outbreak, which is emphasizing how much effort is the government already doing.

Simone Gao: They reported the medical authorities limited the testing kit that the hospitals can use.

Mr. Lin: So my appeal to the United States CDC is: Don’t use the Chinese official data as your only source to know about the true situation of this outbreak.

Narration: Entire China is in self quarantine.

Ms. Gao: What other problems will emerge from this long shutting down of cities and provinces and basically the whole country.

Mr. Lin: I think these will change in a very fundamental way about how Chinese peoples, uh, live their life or next few months

Narration: And reports emerged that the Chinese Communist Party has prepared for the worst.

Ms. Gao: What do they mean by that? They can, they only have the resources to protect those 11 cities and they don’t have the resources to protect the rest or they don’t care. They just only care about the 11 cities. What do they mean?

Narration: Is the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak going to stay at the level of SARS, MERS and Ebola or is it going to be much worse? How are the Chinese people coping with the crisis? And what’s the Communist leadership’s bottom line if the epidemic grows out of control ? My interview with Dr. Lin Xiaoxu, a Chinese and American trained microbiologist. He was lab director of viral disease branch of the walter reed army institute of research who was involved in the outbreak response for MERS in the Middle East in 2014.

Host: I am Simone Gao, and you are watching Zooming In.

Title: How Was the Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Turned into a Political Show: Dr. Lin Xiaoxu

Simone Gao: Thank you very much Dr. Lin for being with us today on Zooming In.

Dr. Lin Xiaoxu: Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure to be with you.

Ms. Gao: A Lancet article suggested that the market is not the only source of the virus and it might not be the origin of the virus either. Science Magazine went along with that conclusion and said the origin of the virus has not been found. What does that say to the development of the vaccine and what does that mean to the containment of the epidemic?

Mr. Lin: Okay, so let’s first talk about this report from a Lancet journal. So basically this study studied the first 41 patients that were initially identified in Wuhan, China. So among them only 27 of them actually had a history related to the Huanan seafood market. So it’s called seafood market, but basically it is a live animal market that sells live poultry too. So actually14 of the 41 patients don’t have any history of visiting the Huanan seafood market. So this is a big question. So how did these people got infected? And now that these people are actually like interacting with the other 27 patients who are not this case. And also another Lancet report studied six patients actually from Shenzhen that’s way south in China, and among these six patients, five of them visited Wuhan, two of them visited the local hospital, but when they went back to Shenzhen, they also transmitted the virus to another family member. So all these cases they are not related to the Huanan seafood market. And also another report mentioned that one of the earliest patients identified was actually on December 1st. And that case was also not related to Huanan seafood market. So this raised a big question. The Huanan seafood market may be causing a large number of the patients to get infected but they are not the original one. It may not be the only one. So that’s why it’s a difficult situation to identify the true origin of the infection.

So this has become a completely different story from what the government originally said because if you read the public health alert from the public health commission or the health commission in Wuhan city…on December 31st and January 3rd and January 5th they released the initial public health alerts. They always mentioned that this is related to the Huanan seafood market.

Ms. Gao: They said it’s related. But I think one article even said the seafood market is the cause of the epidemic.

Mr. Lin: Yeah, Because if you only release very brief information from media interpreting these stories, quite often they will simplify and they all say “this is related to the seafood market”, but I think the public health officers in Wuhan probably know the situation is a lot more complicated than just one seafood market. Right? So that’s why it presents serious challenge.

Ms. Gao: In other words you think they’re misleading, they just simplify the situation and give people the impression that this comes from the seafood market.

Mr. Lin: Yeah. It could be like that. And it could be they simplify their assumption. They think most of the cases are related to the seafood market. But I think the problem is that in China, the official data that had been released in early January was so limited. And in those early public health alerts, they didn’t mention any patients demographics, like you didn’t know any patient’s age, their sex or their occupation, no information like that. So from a public health aspect there is so much of a dark side that you don’t know. (Like) A black hole and they already had this information it’s just that the government didn’t want to release it. Right? Or the hospital knew…it was simple, right? Among these 41 patients, how many people are male and the age range..this is simple information that you can release to the public and it won”t cause panic. Right? But the government even didn’t release this information in the early alert. That’s why people don’t know enough. And even for scientists overseas, they try to understand this outbreak. It may be a small cluster outbreak right? But it may be a serious one. But (from the) outside it’s so hard to understand what’s going on in Wuhan.

Ms. Gao: Right. Tell me why identifying the origin of the virus is essential.

Mr. Lin: When you know where is the origin of the virus, then you may know, for example, a certain animal actually brought the virus to humans, right? If it’s a zoonotic infection, then people know how to handle it much better. For example, if you know it’s swine fever, right? You know, maybe a pig is the one that transmitted the virus to humans. Then of course you see that the government can take measures to close down this slaughter house for the pigs and pig farms…close it down. Right? So you know where it comes from. If it’s a rat, you know how to eradicate rats. If it’s a mosquito transmitted disease you need to do more environmental cleaning and clear up the mosquitoes source. Right?

Ms. Gao: If for example this virus originated from a bat and then jumped into like a cat or a chicken or something, but now people understand. They detect the virus from the chicken instead of the bat and they think that’s the origin. That could cause problems, right? They would limit the chicken but not the bat.

Mr. Lin: Yeah. So in this scenario the bat could be the original source and then a chicken or other poultry is an intermediate host, Right? So if you know the original one, you know maybethose people who were selling the chicken, they maybe visited some other (place like a) bat cave for (for example), in Southern regions they have a lot of bat caves and they got infected because a bat virus needs a certain chance to transmit into these other animals and adapt for awhile before it can transmit to humans. So if you know the transmission route, then you can easily check what would be the root source. Right? But if you only know only one seafood market and they are selling so many different animals there, how do you know which one is causing the problem? And if the cave is very far away from Wuhan, then maybe it can cause another class outbreak in other cities too. That is why it becomes even harder to contain the problem.

Ms. Gao: Right. Is not being able to identify the origin of the virus a big hurdle in terms of developing vaccines?

Mr. Lin: It may not be a big huddle right now cause with, uh, the reason that the advancement in, uh, uh, vexing industries, uh, also in the virology or immunology. So now as long you got the virus a sequence, you, if you’ve got the virus culture, you’ve got the virus stock, uh, you can use different ways to develop our sayings. So, um, you can do the kill the vaccines, you know, and if you know the sequence, you can do certain sub unit, uh, vaccines. For example, the virus, uh, Greg reporting on the surface, despite protein, you can use a subunit and in to stimulate an immune response into people’s bodies. So you may not be a whole virus vaccine, you can be a small subunit vaccine. We can try these different ways. And so that’s why the vaccine industry nowadays has more tools in their hands and to develop vaccine. So even if you don’t know where the virus come from, you can probably develop certain vaccine there can be somewhat effective in control of the situation.

Ms. Gao: Right, because an article from the Institute of a virology indicates that it will have virus lab, [inaudible] lab, the highest security level lab in new Haven. They study viruses like the one that’s fund in the epidemic, almost identical ones. So if they already know the virus, they have been studying the virus virus, why have they not being able to develop a vaccine in time?

Mr. Lin: So the study of the virus, the coronavirus has many aspects, right? So you can start a virus pathogenicity you can start it’s origin, you can study, it’s a vaccine developments, right? So in, uh, in the East to the virology, which is definitely one of the top, uh, uh, virology Institute in China, or you can say even in the whole molecular biology field, they are one of the top Institute in China. So that’s why in 2017, they did identify, uh, the bad coronavirus and they collected in one of the cave in Yunnan.

Ms. Gao: Oh, so they said they collected the virus from Yunnan, not from the seafood market in Wuhan.

Mr. Lin: Yeah. And that’s not related to Wuhan at the time. So it was related to Yunnan, and they actually found the virus went through so many cycles of recombination and can generate a really SARS-like coronavirus. But anyway, SARS coronavirus is in the genetic pool of the bet coronavirus. So when they found (out about) this situation, they actually said we helped the Civit to clear his name, because originally people blamed Civit (for being) the animal that caused the SARS outbreak. So now they said, actually they trace it back to the bet. And so when they got this bet coronavirus or you got a recombination of a new bet coronavirus through your experiments, you’ve got this in your hand, of course you have a very powerful tool that you can further develop a vaccine against it.

Mr. Lin: But I don’t know, like how much effort they’ve already done with the vaccine development. I believe they will be trying to, cause even in 2004 right after SAS outbreak, Chinese scientists started developed works vaccine for the virus. But overall vaccine development is always challenging. Even though there are quite often people saying we found potential vaccine candidates but not too many vaccine trials were successful passing phase one, phase two. So you can develop different ones, especially the subunit vaccines and different tools. You can develop it, you can try it on animal tests and then when you go to a human level, phase one, phase two, it is quite difficult. For example, in 2014 when the Ebola broke out in Africa, very soon in three months, the scientists in the world develop a vaccine against Ebola virus.

Ms. Gao: You said three months is quick?

Mr. Lin: Three months is quick. Very quick, actually.

Ms. Gao: Still too late for the Ebola outbreak.

Mr. Lin: It’s kinda late, and the problem is that it was only partially effective. And then when people were using these vaccine again in the 2018 Ebola outbreak in Congo, their local public health officer actually later on claimed that this is not effective.

Ms. Gao: Because the virus had mutated.

Mr. Lin: It could be mutated and you know, and it could be at a time when you first try in such an emergency response, it was a very limited try. You only have few patients can test this vaccine, right. So there’s a lot of questions regarding about the scale of the trial.

Ms. Gao: Right. So give us an assessment of the current stage of vaccine development for this new virus.

Mr. Lin: I think it’s at the very beginning age for this vaccine development. One good thing is that you know the full genome sequence already and some of the labs already got the virus collected from the patient samples. So you definitely have ways to design different vaccines. That’s why so many scientists globally are actually kind of racing to develop different type of vaccines.

Ms. Gao: So how long is it gonna take for them to make this thing?

Mr. Lin: It will take several months. Especially (since) it has to go through animal tests and then phase one trials before they can actually use it on humans.

Ms. Gao: Is that going to be too late?

Mr. Lin: We don’t know. We don’t know how long this epidemic may last. So a universal vaccine can be like a fundamental way to prevent the disease further spread. But this also relates to another serious issue which is about the immune response that people can generate against different types of vaccines. And for people who are doing vaccine development for a long time, they’re always facing the issue in the modern age because people, so many people, their health condition is not ideal, right? So even the same vaccine you put on the people now, they may not generate a strong enough vaccine or the antibody type generated from this vaccine may not be so sustainable…may not last for long time.

So you can develop different drugs, but people change, people’s immune system’s have become weaker than before. Especially so many younger generation people they sleep late, they have all kinds of computer games and they don’t engage in too much exercise. So their overall physical condition is a weaker. Even in the military you can see the young recruits, their physical condition is weaker than previous generations. So your immune system in the whole society is over all weaker. So the same vaccine given to people (today) stimulates less immune response. So the key issue is for people to defend themselves. You still (need to) build up your own immune strengths. This is still fundamental. The vaccine is only helps to stimulate it, right? If you’re weaker, I cannot stimulate you to become stronger.

Ms. Gao: I think a more pressing issue is antibiotics for this virus. The real cure for this virus is…

Mr. Lin: Is antivirus drugs.

Ms. Gao: How is that going?

Mr. Lin: So antiviral drugs may have some potential candidates because we don’t have specific anti-novel coronavirus drugs. Definitely it will take an even longer time.

Ms. Gao: (It will take longer) than the vaccine?

Mr. Lin: It will take longer time than the vaccine.

Ms. Gao: So we shouldn’t put hopes on a cure for now.

Mr. Lin: (Finding a) cure is always difficult. Basically you try to contain the situation. You try to slow down, for example, the inflammatory response, that is stimulated by this novel coronavirus because the virus may cause overproduction of cytokines which can lead to more severe inflammatory responses in their lungs. It can be systematic inflammatory response in the human body. And so basically a lot of treatments try to slow down the symptoms, slow down the virus replication or reduce the scale of the overproduction of your cytokines, things like that. So there are different drugs used for previous explosions of other outbreaks (which) you may use for this novel coronavirus.

Ms. Gao: Are you saying there’s no cure?

Mr. Lin: I don’t think it has a cure. Even SARS, for 17 years, nobody says, “I can cure SARS” right? Even AIDS, Nobody says “I cure AIDS”. I only can help people live with AIDS for a longer time. And you can live with AIDS, you can live with HIV infection without symptoms.

Ms. Gao: Let’s talk about the Wuhan situation right now. You know, half of China is shutting down and in Wuhan, 8 million people…11 million people…considering a lot of them already left Wuhan. So say 8 million people are quarantined. We have seen reports from social media that there’s still a big difficulty in the patients getting…the confirmed patients getting treatment from the hospitals because there’s a line, there’s a long line and they have to wait for days to be called. And it’s even more difficult for those who develop the symptoms. They can’t even go to the hospital because they don’t have a car. So how do you assess the situation in Wuhan and how do you think it will evolve?

Mr. Lin: I think overall…let me say it this way. OverallI think the Chinese government needs to treat these outbreaks more seriously than it is right now. To me this is like a tsunami coming. So if you think the 2003 SARS outbreak, it’s like a big wave, a big tide. And this time I think its a tsunami.

Ms. Gao: What do you mean they need to be more serious? It seems to me, I mean from the media reports, from the official media reports, they are all in. They have done what they can. They have sent like hundreds of doctors to Wuhan city. They’re building new hospitals and they are opening up hospitals and stuff. Why do you say they’re not serious enough?

Mr. Lin: The one aspect I talk about (regarding the) seriousness is to fully appreciate the potential risk there is that the outbreak could be spread more globally and it could be a real pandemic situation and the Chinese government still needs to be more transparent in releasing more information. So for example, the animal testing results for this virus. I know many of the institutes are probably already doing that. We don’t have this information. This is also very important for global scientists to find a way to stop this transmission. And also it’s very important for the Chinese government to let the many hospitals in China that are dealing with these patients to have the authority to release information to the public. Like how many patients are hospitalized in your local hospitals, how many people have severe symptoms.

And how many people died. And this number needs to come from the hospital directly. And also local hospitals need to play a more important role to let the public know about any effective treatments so far and how many people are still infected in the community without treatment. Are they in self-quarantine situations? So the local authorities need to have more rights to release information to the public. So the whole world, not only Chinese people, the whole world will know the true scale of the outbreak that’s happening in China. The reason that I say that the Chinese government is not really, really serious about it is because they do a lot of big scale government tactics, right? So you can lock down a whole city, but just as you mentioned, 5 million people already left Wuhan. So how about these 5 million people?

China has always claimed they have a big data. Now they’re a surveillance state, right? How about these 5 million people? Are you tracking down them, right? At the same time, if you look at the Chinese media on the CCTV, you’ll still see maybe 99% of the reports regarding the Wuhan outbreak, are emphasizing how much effort the government is already doing. How much effort the (communist) party is doing. Very, very little do you see the real problem that comes from the community. You didn’t see CCTV interviewing people being self-quarantined or people that went to the hospital and cannot find any treatment and were forced to go home. So there’s very little negative reporting. When they mentioned anything negative it is to try to use it as a backdrop for saying the government did so good to overcome the problem.

Ms. Gao: The Government is working so hard…

Mr. Lin: Yeah, they are working so hard. They always bring so many different medical troops from different cities to support Wuhan right?…different medical supplies arrive, the big corporation donate money, right? And people organize to help themselves. You’ll find so many positive reports. That’s why you feel that the situation may be contained.

Ms. Gao: Yeah, they’re all in. Like if the government is really on top of this, we can trust the situation will be under control very quickly. I think that’s the mentality. Of most of the Chinese people.

Mr. Lin: Yeah. Especially when you’re watching CCTV all day long. Because when you are self-quarantining at home, you probably watch this news all the time, right? So you feel probably that this will pass in two weeks. But (knowledge of) the real situation is always only in the government’s hands. The public still doesn’t know. That’s why I said the government still hasn’t treated this very, very seriously in a transparent way.

Ms. Gao: Right? So what’s your assessment of the situation in Wuhan?

Mr. Lin: I think the situation definitely is much worse than what the government tells the world right now. And we see the estimate, from scientists from the UK, from Hong Kong. They’ve all predicted the number of infections (would be) about a hundred thousand in Wuhan alone? With so many people infected with very limited medical resource available. It’s very hard to contain the spreading, the transmission of this virus, even just in one city. Even though the government tried to basically shut down all the transportation, no traffic flow in the cities, but it’s still very hard to contain it. And the government is very good at showing people that they do very draconic measures, right? They build the two hospitals with thousands of beds, but at the same time, you wonder before the bed is built, how about tens of thousands of people?

Ms. Gao: What have they done before?

Mr. Lin: Yeah. And if you think about the different potential tools that you can use in a city, in Wuhan, how many apartment buildings that are empty right? In China, you know, there are so many…

Ms. Gao: They can just simply move those patients to those empty apartments.

Mr. Lin: And even whole building, they’re empty. They’re many of the projects that are kind of stopped in the middle, right? So you can quickly finish something and fill these people in these empty apartments. And even you can use some of the big hotels that you can contain people in there. You don’t have to build a whole new one, you can quickly do modification in the ventilation system, in a hotel, in apartment buildings to make them shoot better for quarantines right. But at least you can put thousands of people in these apartment buildings, hotels, and then you can easily start to treat them or at least isolate them in a better situation, maybe even one room per person. That’s even better than a hospital environment, because in these kinds of outbreak, hospitals are always one of the most dangerous place to cause additional transmission.

Ms. Gao: So do you think things will get a lot worse in Wuhan in the coming days, weeks?

Mr. Lin: I think you’ll still see another major rise of the infected cases in Wuhan and throughout China. More provinces will have more case reported. Especially now the government is at least producing more diagnostic kits and supplying to different regions. So the many other places started to be able to test the new coronavirus. So you will see more cases being reported. But at the same time, I also question these government management tools. Because once the diagnostic measures are identified by the WHO, by the Chinese scientist, every hospital in China, as long as you have the capacities, you can order these primers, to order these testing kit through commercial source. You can even use foreign pharmaceutical companies’ products to support it. You should open up and let people order it through different ways instead of waiting for the central government to do it.

Ms. Gao: Yeah. I assume you must have seen that report, I think it’s from the Epoch Times. They reported the medical authorities limited the (number of) testing kits that the hospitals can use. But by doing that, they can limit…

Mr. Lin: The number of cases confirmed

Ms. Gao: I mean…

Mr. Lin: That’s why, from the United States, from an overseas perspective. You always have (a hard time to) tell the true situation in China if you only read the official data. So my appeal to the United States government and to the CDC is: don’t use the Chinese official data as your only source to know about the true situation of this outbreak. Definitely try to work with independent medias and get information through Chinese social networks. And you know, a lot of hospitals, maybe doctors, nurses, they will actually tell you the situations through their own selfie videos.

Ms. Gao: You just said do not use the official government source as their only source I would say probably not use them at all because it probably serves the opposite. If you listen to them, they gave you probably the very misleading information.

Mr. Lin: Yeah, it can be very misleading and that’s why you have to decipher the message behind the communist message. And I used to do it and it’s so hard, right? So why the government gave people the very positive image that we may be able to control the situation, but at the same time, you see messages about the Wuhan municipal city agent request the central government to allow them to extend the holiday time to February 14? So this is even longer than the two weeks period, right? Because if you think about the coronavirus may have an incubation period for two weeks. So assume you close down the city on January 23rd, right? So suppose by February 8, most people may have been infected. If you don’t have the disease, you probably already passed the most critical time. Right? But now the government wants to extend it, what does that mean? Right? So that’s why I said the true situation is always a lot more serious than the government presented to the world.

Ms. Gao: So explain that to me. That means a lot more people are infected than they reported?

Mr. Lin: So the truth situation is always a lot more serious than what the government presented to the world regardless of whether it’s the number of severe patients or the death number and also suspected cases. In the United States we call it PUI (patient under investigation). So all of these numbers, if you time 10 times the official data, it may be more close to reality.

Ms. Gao: So you just talked about the government is going to extend the spring festival holiday to February 14th, and now basically China is shut down. What other problems will emerge from this long shutting down of cities and provinces and basically the whole country?

Mr. Lin: I think this will change in a very fundamental way about how Chinese people live their life for next few months, because if you just shut down for a few days, people can survive easily. Right? But if you lasted for three weeks, four weeks, then you see a lot of problems surfacing. And of course you can see the government try to mobilize different ways to supply food, vegetables, and all kinds of essentials to the cities, but that’s…

Ms. Gao: Have they been effective in that? Efficient and effective?

Mr. Lin: In certain ways, it definitely is effective because the government mobilized so many resources to support a city. Right?

Ms. Gao: But I heard stories from Wuhan that sick people don’t get to go to the hospital and people who have symptoms have to wait in days. They didn’t, they don’t get picked up from the taxi or whatever the community cars they’re supposed to be able to use.

Mr. Lin: Yeah. That’s why people cannot rely simply on the government’s supply, the government official way to support yourself. So I think it’s very important for people who are living in Wuhan, that are being quarantined down, they need to find a way to self-organize, to support themselves and collaborate with the hospital directly. You know, medical staffs directly. If you have people you know, sick at home, if they showing severe symptoms, don’t just bring them to the hospital by yourself. Contact the hospitals, each hospital to have any additional manpower to come to pick up the patients. So it seems like there’s some people need to find a way to support themselves and the governments try to find different way to support the city. But the government can always say this place is more important. I want to sacrifice other cities. And it was unavoidable that the government’s like, I can see why it’s so important. I can maneuver all resources to support Wuhan. But how about other cities, other certain cities in Hubei province that also need a lot of resource, right?

Ms. Gao: Oh, by the way, did you see that report that says the central government has identified 11 cities that they want to safeguard?

Mr. Lin: Yeah. How about other places, right?

Ms. Gao: Yeah. What do they mean by that? That they only have the resources to protect those 11 cities and they don’t have the resources to protect the rest or they don’t care? They just only care about the 11 cities. What do they mean?

Mr. Lin: I think at first that it means these cities that they identify are facing very dire situations, so they have to support them. So you know, in China, these cities, they are not small and in many of them, maybe even midsize cities, millions of people (live) there. (These Are) not mega cities like Wuhan but they can still have a million people, Right? So the government has to identify some of the cities they can at least quickly mobilize resources to support these cities. But at the same time, they are basically saying for the countryside or other smaller cities, we won’t be able to take care of you if you have an outbreak right now. So better prepare yourself. So basically you can interpret this in two different ways. These are very important like epicenters for this outbreak. Because I think right now maybe other smaller cities also have a large number of cases but the government didn’t release (that information) yet. So the true situation is probably more than (just) Wuhan as the epicenter. Now maybe other cities already may have a significant number of cases. Especially in Hubei province. Because as you can imagine in Wuhan, how many people travel to nearby cities or the countryside. Right? So actually the whole Hubei province probably is in big trouble.

Ms. Gao: Right. Let’s imagine that scenario a little bit. If the Chinese central government is only able to take care of 11 cities or whatever and all the rest of the country is left alone and if the epidemic really broke out. At that stage, don’t you think the Chinese people are going to be very upset with the government? What would happen then?

Mr. Lin: The Chinese people definitely are upset with the government.

I think a lot of Chinese don’t have other alternative ways to put their hopes on, right? Because Chinese government controls society in such thorough ways. So almost every aspect of their life you need the government’s monitoring support or these kind control measures. So the government shut down the city. So you feel your only chance is to wait for the government to support you. That’s why it’s very, very difficult. But right now, the Chinese government still tries to make these major cities that have a lot of infection cases, as like a model case. They want to show the world they can contain the situation. Other cities, even a big city like Shanghai, there is news saying the Shanghai, (which is) probably the second largest city and in the list of potential infections. So what about Shanghai? Right? So there’s another city with more than 10 million people. So what does Shanghai do to protect themselves? So of course a big city has different way to mobilize a neighboring province or city to support themselves. But overall it just becomes very difficult for…the overall situation has become very difficult for Chinese people to go through what I call calamity.

Ms. Gao: So what’s your assessment of the Chinese communist party’s ability to handle such a large scale public health crisis?

Mr. Lin: I think we can address this issue from different angles. So first, what’s their purpose? Right? For the Chinese government, their fundamental purpose is to maintain their own power. So handling public crises is very important for them in terms of how they can maintain their own power in China. So they can do all kinds of (things) to show the people they can try to contain the situation and contain the outbreak. But the fundamental purpose is to keep the Chinese government in power, so they will portray all the very positive images and then try to keep all the challenges, the difficulty and the disaster aspects in the dark. And so to the Chinese people, you will continue to see the media reporting so many positive signals, right? So many government measures to support the community, support the hospital…the military is engaged to support the hospitals. So that’s some of the positive ones.

Ms. Gao: I just want to mention one news report I saw. It’s actually a video clip. The vice premier, Li Keqiang, Li Keqiang is the premier. So premier Li Keqiang went to Hubei and asked a bunch of bureaucrats, high level officials from Hubei province. “Do You have any difficulties? Do you have any thing that we need to help you with?” All the officials are like, “No we don’t”. Is that the typical Chinese communist party mentality?

Mr. Lin: Yes. And especially what you saw on the news because it’s the official tone. They want to show people the Chinese communist party is always so glorious. They are so good at serving people. They can overcome all the difficulty. So their propaganda tone is that, this is a disease, the communist party can lead the Chinese people to overcome. We can Conquer, under the communist party leadership. So that’s a problem. Their purpose is not really to help people overcome the challenge that the disease brought, their purpose is to, “Okay, I can use this challenge to maintain my power”. That’s the fundamental problem on this one. And then practically from that…

Ms. Gao: I think if this happens in America, I think all the officials would say, “I have this problem or I have that difficulty, why don’t you help me? The federal government, you should do this, do that”. But in China, that’s not the case. Not even one official said anything. All of them said, yes, we got this under control.

Mr. Lin: That’s why sometimes when you read news from China, you feel very sad. You just feel the Chinese people, many people are very hopeless. But these people’s voice can never be heard. And the government does not allow them to be interviewed by the media. And even for example, the mayor of Wuhan, he publicly admitted that already 5 million people left China before he shut down the city.

Ms. Gao: And the reason he didn’t report the case is because he has to get the approval from his supervisors, from the central government.

Mr. Lin: He doesn’t have the authority to release the information to the public in a timely way. If this happened in the United States, of course, probably in the municipal government, many people would need to resign right? Because you are causing the problem. But the Chinese government says, we caused a problem but we don’t talk about it. We just talk about how we can conquer the problem now.

Ms. Gao: Right. So, but on the other hand, they are an authoritarian regime. They do have power. So in that sense, are they effective in, you know, doing all this effort and controlling everything?

Mr. Lin: So I think that they will be able to control the situation in certain ways in certain scale and degrees. Because of course you mobilize so many national resource to Wuhan, for example. Of course, you will completely slow down the food traffic in the cities or you slow down the disease transmission. You know, these kinds of ways. But what about other problems that are already in your hands like the 5 million people (who fled from Wuhan to) other cities, right? How do you handle this situation? So that’s why their purpose is not really completely seriously deal with the whole situation. They would just try to see, okay this is a spot I can make a political show, I can show people Chinese communist party is so glorious. So that’s why the first issue is their purpose and then practically because the government system is hierarchical,

And so you will know that Chinese local officials, they only need to follow the order from the top. And they are not really elected officials so they don’t have the responsibility to the people basically. So of course they have to follow the leadership from the central government. Right? So in China you see many cities start to copy from Wuhan. Now we are at level one response, we also try to close down the traffic, all of these different measures. So it will show people they were taking a very active measures, but at the same time, how about all the other resources? How do you mobilize them? How do you support people’s lives in a very comprehensive way? And so, uh, how about any transparency that people need to see, you know, on a local level what kind of challenges it is? Okay. So this is the most difficult part that in China the government don’t tell you the difficult, the dark side, the challenging part, the tragedy that people suffer, you know, so that’s why it’s very hard to know the situation

Ms. Gao: But at some point, they have to face the reality. 5 million people have already left Wuhan. If there is another major outbreak in other parts of China while they are busy putting on this political show, wouldn’t that make the Chinese people really mad and bring danger to their rule?

Mr. Lin: I think the Chinese government, the central government right now, they hope this outbreak is like SARS, eventually manageable by them.

Ms. Gao: By itself. I mean, just disappear by itself?

Mr. Lin: In a certain way it disappeared by itself and in a certain way they can show that they can mobilize resources. Like in Beijing, they build up these hospitals Xiao Tangshan, building these models showing the people that we can contain thousands of people and then eventually conquer the problem. So they hope the problem is only like the SARS. And so that’s their betting.

Ms. Gao: They have some wishful thinking.

Mr. Lin: Their wishful thinking is that this is a situation that eventually, maybe in a few months, I still can manage it. I still can handle it like SARS, even though it’s a bigger scale. But I can use the same tactic. That’s why they built a hospital in Wuhan. It was the same model in Beijing, they hope in maybe three, four months, “Eventually I conquer it”. And this is another proof that communist party is so righteous in helping people. Right? So that’s their bet game. But I think the situation is a lot worse than they realized, because in the Chinese government another problem is, when it’s so hierarchical and a local officer does not tell the true situation to the top, just like the situation you mentioned. When premier asks people, do you have problems? They said “no”. It’s same in the city level, in the county level and the village level. They don’t tell the true situation to the top. For officers, if you tell the truth, you may be kicked out of the system. So that’s why, I think it’s still very difficult for Chinese people to go through this very, very challenging time.

Ms. Gao: So keeping all of these in mind, what do you think the American government should do? I mean, so far five cases have been confirmed in America. Uh, do you think the city sees a precautionary measure is enough? What other steps do you think they should take?

Mr. Lin: Hmm. I think the CDC has been taking more effective measures to monitor the situations. For example, they’ve probably expanded to more airports to do the body temperature measurements.

Ms. Gao: But that’s not even effective, right?

Mr. Lin: It will be effective in certain ways. At least you enhanced the measures because some people were showing symptoms even though some people may not have symptom. But at least you are taking additional measures, not just the three major cities or airports like in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York. That’s not enough.

Ms. Gao: One last question. Under what circumstances do you think the Chinese communist party will lose the heaven’s mandate? According to the Chinese people?

Mr. Lin: I think the last few years, especially after Xi Jinping took power, the Chinese government tried to present to the Chinese people that China is in a very glorious stage in history, right? It’s the most glorious period. Even better than some of the old emperor periods. The Chinese government tries to say that China is in the most prosperous moment. So they try to present this image to the whole Chinese society. But I think this epidemic in China would (cause) this image to shatter. I think this epidemic will totally crash this false image that the Chinese government presents to the people. People will see the incompetence and the corruption that the Chinese government has. People will see it a lot more clearly than before and they will suffer more in this epidemic. So I think it will fundamentally shaken the rule of the communist party. So in China’s history, quite often, before the transition into a new dynasty, there are different disease outbreak (such as) a plague, different epidemics happened at the end of the Ming Dynasty and the Ching dynasty. So I think this could be another sign of another situation…history repeats itself.

Ms. Gao: A dynasty ending pandemic.

Mr. Lin: Yes. It could be the dynasty ending pandemic. That’s why I say seriously, yeah, it is. It’s a red dynasty-ending epidemic already happening in front of Chinese people’s face. But people may not realize it.

Ms. Gao: Thank you so much Dr. Lin.

Mr. Lin: Thank you.