The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak — which has so far infected almost 75,000 people and killed over 2,000 patients in China — has been extensively covered in international media.
However, the coverage has largely been silent about its impact, if any, on Uighur Muslims in China's northwest border region of Xinjiang.
In late January, Business Insider reported that the novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, had hit Xinjiang, "where China has imprisoned at least one million Uighur Muslims".
According to the report published on 24 January, if the coronavirus spreads in Xinjiang "it could leave the Uighur Muslims detained in prison camps across the region highly vulnerable to infection".
The Uighurs, a Muslim minority native to China's northwest border region of Xinjiang, are reportedly detained in Xinjiang re-education camps "to ensure adherence to Chinese Communist Party ideology".
Then on 28 January, Vox said that experts warned of a "massive disaster" leading to thousands of deaths among Uighur Muslims if the coronavirus disease hit any of the internment camps.
"If the virus reaches the camps in Xinjiang, I can't imagine the authorities are going to make this public knowledge," Tim Grose, a China expert at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, was quoted as saying.
And given how there were reports about the Chinese government censoring information about the novel coronavirus outbreak in its initial stage, the Vox report stated that there is a legitimate reason to worry that the authorities there might cover up the problem if it reaches the camps where Uighurs are being kept.
As per a report yesterday, 19 February, China has said that there are 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one confirmed death in Xinjiang
The report by iPolitics quoted a coordinator at International Support for Uighurs saying that, "while Beijing is very secretive about the camps, sources in the region have confirmed over 65 inmates have been infected by the coronavirus which hasn't been reflected by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at this time."
According to the Canadian digital newspaper, Zapaer Alip, the coordinator has asked Canada to partner with international organisations to request Beijing to allow the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Red Cross to access the region to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
"We do not know if they have enough to eat, if they have access to medical care," he said.
Additionally, there have been reports about a family of four in Xinjiang who are said to be the first cases of Uighurs contracting the disease
In one of the reports yesterday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that the four infected persons reside in Yining (Ghulja in English), a county-level city in northwestern Xinjiang, which has been entirely sealed off.
RFA said that it was able to confirm the names of the four family members, identifying them as 75-year-old Pehridin Helil, his 73-year-old wife Rehangul, 51-year-old Ablikim Pehridin, and 49-year-old Halide Memet.
According to RFA, a resident of Yining said that because he conducts trade in the county-level city, he was forced to remain at home where he has been locked for a couple of days.
"The infected person is named Pehridin Helil, a retired teacher. He lives in the Sheyih village area of our town," the resident was quoted as saying, adding that the 75-year-old had been to a funeral gathering, and Xinjiang officials are investigating all those who attended the funeral.
"My father, his name is Musa, was also among them and he and others were taken to Ghulja county to be isolated. When I talked to my father over the phone I heard that Pehridin Helil was taken to the city."
Since then, Erkin Sidick, a NASA Senior Optical Engineer of Uighur descent, has taken to his Twitter account to say that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has decided to kill the Uighurs by starvation
According to Erkin, whom SAYS reached out to, local officials came to the homes of every Uighur resident of Yining (Ghulja), took the house keys from the owners and locked their doors/gates from the outside.
"They left sealing the doors with a note: 'Rest well at home; wish you good health'," Erkin said.
"Some parents in Ghulja city told their kids abroad that they may die of starvation because their food is almost running out and they have no one to ask to deliver food for them."
In his Twitter thread posted yesterday, Erkin said that Uighurs in the city believe that CCP may be planning to use the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse and kill them with starvation.
"Some Uighurs living in tall buildings discovered that the Han neighbours are getting truck-delivered foods, but not the Uighurs. So some Uighurs in Ghulja city came to the conclusion that the CCP may be planning to use COVID-19 as an excuse and kill Ghulja's Uighur residents with starvation."
According to Erkin's tweets, some of the Uighur Muslims told their relatives who are living abroad that while they will not die from the coronavirus disease, they may die from starvation.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera quoted Dilnur Reyhan, a French sociologist of Uighur origin, voicing his concern about the issue last week
"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 was quoted as saying.
According to Al Jazeera's report, a Change.org petition signed by more than 3,000 people has urged for the closure of the camps in order to reduce the threat.
We must not wait until news of hundreds of coronavirus related deaths in the camps before we react.
Prior to this, a manga about a Uighur woman who was detained and tortured in China on three separate occasions went viral: