There is a “tremendous danger” of a Covid-19 resurgence in China due to Beijing’s censorship and suppression during the coronavirus outbreak, Human Rights Watch warned on Thursday.

Meanwhile the “culture of denialism” among the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Brazil was costing lives, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told reporters in Geneva via a virtual press conference.

A man wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus walks past a Communist Party flag along a street in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 31, 2020. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP.

The non-governmental organisation’s chief said China was the “most notorious abuser” when it came to exploiting the pandemic to indulge in censorship.

He said Beijing had allowed the virus to spread by having “censored and suppressed the Wuhan doctors” who first tried to warn of the outbreak there in December.

“That’s a classic example of how censorship is disastrous,” said Roth.

“There’s a tremendous danger that censorship is going to permit the virus to reactivate,” he added.

President Xi Jinping “has almost staked his personal prestige on saying there is no more human to human transmission within China”, said Roth.

Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang. Photo: Li Wenliang.

If a local authority in China found a new series of transmissions in their community, “are you going to tell anybody?”.

“That message from Beijing that we don’t want accurate information but good news only is a recipe for the coronavirus’s re-emergence.”

Brutality and denialism

Roth said some governments were using the pandemic as an “opportunity for brutality”, citing Uganda, Kenya and El Salvador while other leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had been using the virus as a pretext for power-grabs.

Meanwhile, a denialist approach from US President Donald Trump and his Mexican and Brazilian counterparts would prove costly.

President of the United States Donald Trump. File photo: US Gov’t.

Trump’s “two-week delay in recognising the severity of the pandemic probably caused 90 percent of the deaths so far in the United States,” said Roth.

He said the response to the crisis echoed that of the September 2001 terror attacks when “governments seized that opportunity to over-react” with highly intrusive surveillance.

“The fear is that this kind of over-reach is happening again,” and “is going to be with us for a long time”.

However, some human rights, such as better healthcare access for the less well off, might well improve as a result of the crisis.

“We are no safer than the weakest segments of society,” said Roth.

Remote voting, as a way to protect public health, could lead to enhanced voting rights.

And surveillance apps being introduced for coronavirus tracking had raised the concerns over privacy.

“When our mobile phones become basically surveillance apps, coronavirus is forcing a reassessment of that,” said Roth.

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