Is Coronavirus China’s Chernobyl?

Where similarities between the two disasters begin and end – Olivia Humphrey

Of all the images to hit the mainstream media over the past few weeks, some of the most arresting have featured Wuhan’s deserted streets during the coronavirus epidemic. These photographs take a city of eight million and reduce it to a ghost-town. In these still moments, it is hard not to think of another ghost-town – one that has actually been frozen in time, an ashy monument to a flailing communist superpower that mishandled a catastrophic crisis. For years, the empty factories, homes and schools of Pripyat were little more than a man-made playground for wildlife, tainted by plumes of plutonium. More recently, drones have been able to venture in. They have recorded beautiful and sad footage of what a town becomes when its people are suddenly wiped away: a ghostly observation wheel; a dodgem funfair ride overgrown with plants; a giant rusting hammer and sickle.

The Chernobyl-coronavirus analogy has not been lost on the media. Since the outbreak of the virus, and especially in February, journalists have pointed out parallels. First and foremost is the health toll, and how the damage proliferated. The radiation pollution that emitted from Ukraine in 1986 as a result of reactor 4’s meltdown nestled, quietly and terrifyingly, into millions of bodies. It is too early to tell the cost of coronavirus, but the fact that it also can spread silently, through people who are pre-symptomatic, gives it that same edge of phantom menace.