Partly because the government covered up the epidemic in the early stages, hospitals were not able to gather supplies, and there are now major shortages of testing kits, masks and protective gear. Some doctors were reduced to making goggles out of plastic folders.

One reason for the early cover-up is that Xi’s China has systematically gutted institutions like journalism, social media, nongovernmental organizations, the legal profession and others that might provide accountability. These institutions were never very robust in China, but on and off they were tolerated until Xi came along.

I conducted a series of experiments on Chinese blogs over the years beginning in 2003 and was sometimes surprised by what I could get away with — but no longer. Xi has dragged China backward in terms of civil society, crushing almost every wisp of freedom and oversight.

For the same reason that Xi’s increasingly authoritarian China bungled the coronavirus outbreak, it also mishandled a swine fever virus that since 2018 has devastated China’s hog industry and killed almost one-quarter of the world’s pigs.