Top health official in quarantined city fired for ignorance about basic facts of coronavirus outbreak

Society & Culture

Huanggang is the epidemic-stricken Chinese city 50 miles from Wuhan that has reported 324 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV. A high-ranking city health official there has been removed from her post after a meeting with an inspection team sent by the central government, where she struggled to answer even basic questions regarding the epidemic in her city.

On January 27, a group of health officials from Beijing arrived in Huanggang to assist with the city’s epidemic prevention measure. During the meeting, also attended by some journalists, Táng Zhìhóng 唐志红, head of Huanggang’s Health Committee, showed an astonishing level of incompetence that enraged the public.

When asked about the number of patients that local hospitals dedicated to the outbreak could handle, Tang remained silent at first and then gave an incorrect number. She could not say how many confirmed cases of infection the city had. She then proceeded to make a phone call to get the answers.

Tang defended her ignorance to reporters by saying that she was unable to keep up with the situation because “things change every day.”

Deeply unsatisfied with Tang’s answers, the officials from Beijing asked Tang if she had any idea of how bad the situation was, to which she replied, “I lost my sense of direction long ago.”

After the footage of the meeting (in Chinese) was shared on the Chinese internet, Tang quickly became the target of intense criticism. Besides taking issue with her sheer ignorance about the impact and infections of the Wuhan coronavirus in her city, many internet users also made complaints about her arrogant disposition when taking the questions and her unapologetic attitude after failing to answer them. Angered by Wang’s behavior, a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese): “She didn’t even bother to pretend to take her responsibilities seriously.”

In response to the uproar, the Huanggang government announced (in Chinese) on January 30 that Tang had been dismissed from her position.

Tang has not been the only government official held responsible for their negligence or misconduct during the epidemic. According to the Southern Weekly (in Chinese), more than 33 state workers across the country have received various degrees of punishment for their malfeasance since the outbreak began in Wuhan.

It’s worth noting, however, that the vast majority of the accused officials were from rural regions, where their attempts to raise alarms about the gravity of the epidemic were often thwarted by the lack of urgency among local residents. When interviewed by the Southern Weekly, Chén Liàng 陈亮, a county-level official from Hubei Province, said that he was held to account for not having “prevention and control measures properly implemented among locals,” but that was not entirely his fault. “I always arrived timely to stop residents from congregating. But they are like water hyacinth, growing literally everywhere. It was impossible for me to take them under tight control,” Chen said.