The spread of the new coronavirus has captured the attention of the world, making it essential that we do not abandon the imprisoned Chinese Uighurs who have limited access to hospitals, nutrition and quarantine areas.
Thus far at least 1,750 people have died from the coronavirus in China.
One new study says as many as 75,815 people in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, may have been infected. Additional research found that the number of infected people doubled in size roughly every week in the outbreak's initial few weeks.
With no vaccine yet available to prevent its spread, the world is right to be concerned.
In response, Google has shut down its offices in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while Microsoft and Amazon have taken additional steps to prevent the spread of the virus among their workers.
Schools in Beijing are closed indefinitely, while Hong Kong has shut schools until March. These are all critical measures to protect human beings from what may be a deadly pandemic.
China has refused to close their “re-education" camps in the Xinjiang province, which Uighurs, a persecuted Muslim minority in China, and human rights observers are more appropriately calling concentration camps.
Chinese secrecy leaves us in the dark
These camps are at risk of becoming death chambers.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency this month, yet China's government, the WHO and the United Nations are apparently so far silent about the potential danger to the detained Uighurs.
More troubling is that if the virus spreads in the camps, no one in the outside world will likely know how Chinese health officials will respond, or even the extent of the death toll, as no human rights organization or news media have been provided free access to these camps.
More than a dozen coronavirus cases have already been reported in Xinjiang, but China has not disclosed whether any of the people in the camps have been infected.
China’s authorities have put secrecy ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis and risking political embarrassment. But the consequences of China’s authoritarian behaviour can no longer be ignored by the rest of the world.
Overcrowded, unsanitary, dangerous
Cramped conditions in these camps could be perfectly suited for the coronavirus to spread from one individual to another very quickly.
Hygienic conditions are far worse than Chinese-guided media tours of these facilities have shown. The reality is that up to 60 persons are in a cell with an un-walled ‘hole in the corner’ as a toilet.
Such unsanitary and overcrowded conditions could make the camps a breeding ground for the coronavirus.
Individuals with weakened immune systems, including the elderly, infants, malnourished individuals and people with high stress levels, such as those detained in these camps, are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
It is therefore critical for the world to pressure China to immediately close these camps and restore their inmates to their homes.
We cannot and must not wait for reports to emerge of countless dead prisoners to act.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk