Chinese Propaganda Featuring Tibetan Nurse Debunked as COVID-19 Cases Increase

A Chinese state TV effort to turn a Tibetan nurse from a remote corner of Qinghai province into a heroic volunteer fighting the coronavirus in Wuhan fizzled this week when her relatives said she was ordered to go to the epicenter of the epidemic in Hubei province.

“Thirty-one-year-old Choegyi Dolma is the deputy nurse of the Hualong county Tibetan Medicine Hospital in Tsoshar prefecture. When hospital officials discussed who to send to Wuhan, Choegyi Dolma raised her hand to volunteer for the service,” state-run CCTV Tibetan news broadcast on Tuesday.

“All of her other colleagues were surprised by her determination and competency, and admired her courage to go to the epicenter of the epidemic in Wuhan,” said the report, which said she went with the firm support of her family.

“I can’t give up my children, but since I am a nurse, it is also my duty to battle against the epidemic,” CCTV quoted Choegyi Dolma as saying. She described her mission to “ground zero helping the patients in Wuhan the same as protecting my children.”

As her story spread in Tibet, RFA’s Tibetan Service contacted exile sources who knew her relatives in Tsoshar (Haidong, in Chinese) prefecture’s Hualong county.

“Choegyi Dolma’s manner of departure conflicts with what she has said on TV,” said the exile source.

“Her departure to Wuhan was not voluntary,” the exile source quoted a relative as saying. “She was ordered to go to Wuhan by upper management.”

“Her family members learned about her deployment in Wuhan only after she reached there, and they are concerned for her safety now” said the RFA source.

“The Chinese nurses in Hualong county hospital were not willing to go to Wuhan, so they drew lots to decide who should go, but even with that, the Chinese nurses were reluctant to go,” said RFA’s source. “However the Tibetan nurse was ordered to go.”

RFA’s Tibetan Service called the Hualong county hospital Wednesday and asked about nurses reportedly sent to Wuhan.

“There are two nurses who have gone to Wuhan,” said a female staffer who answered the phone. When asked if it was voluntary, the woman said: “It might be voluntary.” But asked about nurses drawing lots, she hung up.

Meanwhile, Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, saw its total number of confirmed infections climb to 36 on Wednesday with nine new cases reported by state media in the prefecture’s Tawu (Daofu) county.

According to the Kardze health commission, the youngest patient was 3 years old and the oldest was 72 years old, and all nine are Tibetans from Tawu county, with no recent travel outside the region.

“The patients were transferred to a designated hospital in the state for treatment. All close contacts identified were placed in isolation for medical observation,” the commission said in a report.

As of Wednesday, the epidemic of COVID-19, as the virus has been named by the World Health Organization (WHO), caused 1,113 deaths among 45,206 confirmed cases globally. Most of the deaths were in the worst-hit central province of Hubei and its provincial capital, Wuhan.

Reported by Gaitho and Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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