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The Nikkei View

China's coronavirus fight is far from over

Lack of transparency raises questions over early outbreak response

Travelers in protective suits are seen on April 10 at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan.   © Reuters

Although China has lifted its more than two-month lockdown of Wuhan, the first city to succumb to the novel coronavirus, the crisis is still nowhere near its end. Authorities must continue to do all they can to prevent another wave of infections while working to rebuild the battered economy.

In Wuhan, citizens who can prove their health are allowed to leave the city, while strict movement restrictions still remain in the residential areas. Other regions have also closed movie theaters and karaoke bars after briefly allowing them to open. Meanwhile, Beijing has imposed tougher rules for entering and leaving the capital.

Those conflicting responses are a result of China's less-than transparent statistics. The biggest question regarding the Chinese numbers is its tracking of asymptomatic carriers. Wuhan alone has 10,000 to 20,000 asymptomatic carriers of the virus that causes COVID-19, a Wuhan University expert told local media.

China said on March 31 that asymptomatic infections would be added to its daily statistical report, after Premier Li Keqiang warned officials not to doctor data for the purpose of touting zero infections. While this constitutes progress, past data is not being revised. The future global response will suffer without an accurate picture of the outbreak since the beginning.

The central government also blamed only low-ranking officials for silencing Dr. Li Wenliang -- an early whistleblower who contracted the disease and died -- and ignored larger questions regarding its own suppression of free speech. China cannot wiggle out of this without providing a full accounting of its handling of the outbreak that has killed more than 117,000 people worldwide and wreaked havoc on the global economy.

Another challenge is the influx of cases from abroad. The virus that spread from China is flowing back to the country by air and land this time. China decided to close all border crossings with Russia on April 8, the same day it lifted its lockdown on Wuhan.

The coronavirus has spread across the planet in less than four months and is no longer a problem confined by national borders. As an integrated part of the world economy, China will see its recovery affected by a blow to global demand. The country must reflect on its initial missteps and rebuild trust and cooperation with the rest of the world.

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