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Coronavirus crisis could exponentially worsen if it takes hold in Uighur Muslim concentration camps in China
Uighur rights activists stage a demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy in London on Jan. 5. (David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Coronavirus crisis could exponentially worsen if it takes hold in Uighur Muslim concentration camps in China

Will we even know if it does?

Coronavirus is spreading throughout mainland China and claiming thousands of lives amid a shroud of secrecy and questionable information from the communist Chinese government. As bad as things are now, things could get much deadlier if the virus spreads to the Uighur Muslim concentration camps in northwest China, The Guardian reported.

The estimated number of imprisoned Turkic Uighurs in the region varies widely, but is believed to be between 1 million and 3 million people detained in Chinese "re-education" camps. In those camps, detainees deal with overcrowding, filthy conditions, and lack of adequate medical care — prime conditions for the spread of a deadly, highly contagious virus.

Most of the coronavirus cases in China are in the Hubei province, specifically in the city of Wuhan. That is far from the Xinjiang province where the camps are located — but there have already been 55 confirmed coronavirus cases there.

"People are starting to panic. Our families are there, dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat or if they have masks," Dilnur Reyhan, a French sociologist of Uighur origin, said, according to The Guardian.

Coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous to people with pre-existing health conditions, elderly people, or people under high stress.

China's early attempts to hide the extent of the early coronavirus outbreak leads to the question of whether China would respond properly — or even reveal it to the public — if detained Uighurs began getting coronavirus in large numbers.

This potential danger is yet another reason activists are calling on the Chinese government to close the camps and alleviate the possibility that coronavirus could spread throughout them.

A petition posted on Change.org signed by more than 3,000 people has called for the closure of the camps to reduce the threat posed by holding so many people in close proximity.

"We must not wait until news of hundreds of coronavirus-related deaths in the camps before we react," the petition says. "As China continues to struggle to contain the virus in Wuhan, we can easily assume the virus will rapidly spread throughout the camps and affect millions if we don't raise the alarm now."

Social media campaigns have been started, under hashtags such as #VirusThreatInThecamps and #WHO2Urumqi to urge the World Health Organization (WHO) to send a delegation to Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has, for years, detained Muslim minorities living in Xinjiang in camps for the alleged purpose of re-educating "people influenced by extremism." Detainees are forced to renounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the communist government. The government claims, without providing evidence, that Muslims in the region have ties to dangerous extremists.

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