A cyclist wearing a protective mask rides past a banner of Chinese president Xi Jinping in Shanghai | Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
A cyclist wearing a protective mask rides past a banner of Chinese president Xi Jinping in Shanghai | Representational image | Qilai Shen | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: Chinese President Xi Jinping delayed his warning to the world about Covid-19 by six days and US President Donald Trump didn’t act on it for six more weeks, a new CNN report has said.

In the investigative report titled China’s Deadly Secret broadcast late Sunday (EST), US journalist and political scientist Fareed Zakaria highlighted how the Chinese health authorities handled the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The report revealed that China’s early errors made the outbreak even worse. It said the local government in Wuhan tried to cover up the outbreak initially, but it’s unclear if President Xi knew about it then.

Zakaria held a discussion with experts, which began with him posing these questions: “Once upon a time, there was just one person with a fever and a cough, how did we go from that first case to a global catastrophe? Could the virus be stopped? What happened in the earlier days when they knew that they were at war with a virus? What did the Chinese government know and when did they know it?”


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‘Largest political potluck’

According to the CNN report, the “unseen enemy” invaded Wuhan in mid-December.

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“They just seemed to have a bunch of pneumonia patients,” said The New York Times health and science reporter Donald McNeil, Jr.

On 30 December, a Chinese doctor, Dr Li Wenliang, sent out an advisory to other doctors to “lookout” for this virus. He asked them not to circulate this news but it got out anyway. At the time, he was detained by the Chinese officials for spreading ‘fake news’, said the report.

The next day, China told the World Health Organization (WHO) about the illness. On 9 January, scientists in China identified the coronavirus but strongly asserted that it “didn’t appear transmissible”.

Despite the dire circumstances, the Communist Party of China hosted a banquet for over 1,000 people in Wuhan. The move came despite the virus racing through as local officials then broke the record for the “largest political potluck”, it said.

‘Cover-up’

During the discussion on the show, Yanzhong Huang, professor and senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Evidence suggesting that transmission was occurring made the situation even worse.”

While Wuhan emerged as a hotspot for Covid-19, the virus made international headlines. At this point, Beijing got “worried” and sent a team of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention workers to Wuhan to investigate. However, the team leader himself contracted the viral disease, said the CNN report.

On 14 January, the virus was diagnosed in Thailand. Then the Chinese officials held a critical teleconference, during which officials acknowledged that the virus could potentially become a pandemic. A highest-level emergency response was issued, but only inside the Chinese government.

“But it would be only six more days before Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the world that China had a serious problem. Why did the Chinese government wait six days until that teleconference? In those days, thousands of people travelled in and out of Wuhan,” said the report.

Yanzhong said, “There was a cover-up going on.”

Author and New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos said, “Everything we know about the way the Chinese political system works tells us that the local government was probably a scapegoat. The crisis was handled from the top. Whether or not Xi Jinping knew about it from the very beginning or heard about it later I find it implausible to imagine that the government wasn’t aware of the pandemic.”

He added, “China has effectively created a system of information transfer internally in secrecy.”

On 21 January, the first known case of coronavirus was found in Washington. At the time, President Donald Trump had “dismissed those concerns and spoke of Xi Jinping in glowing terms”. He had also tweeted thanking China for its transparency.


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What China did to the whistleblower

The report said a complete lockdown was finally imposed in Wuhan on 23 January. At this point, the decision to “silence” Dr Li Wenliang had proven to be a “catastrophe”. He was persecuted for sounding the alarm but then he died of the same virus.

Li’s statement went viral across all social media platforms. “I believe that there should be more than one voice in a health society,” the report quoted Li as having said before his death.

His death became a trigger for resistance against the Chinese officials’ handling of the virus and their attempts to cover it up. They blew whistles for the whistleblowers and posted tributes for him, said the report.

A hashtag titled #WeWantFreedomOfSpeech also started trending on Chinese social media. The outpour was such that it was able to swamp Chinese censorship. Osnos said, “The Chinese officials saw this as the greatest challenge to their authority since Tiananmen Square… However, they didn’t want to clampdown entirely, they wanted to allow rage to outpour in the limited confines of the internet.”

Overnight, the Chinese government made a switch and turned Li into a “martyr”, bestowing on him the highest civilian honour.

Osnos saw this as an “act of political desperation”. He explained that after this, the Chinese sense of pride gripped its citizens and President Xi Jinping was able to place himself as the man who “led people out of the harm’s way”.

Draconian methods to contain Covid-19

The report said it could be “tempting to say that authoritarianism played a part in China containing the pandemic but strategic planning did as well”.

President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war”, which is a Maoist term indicating “to crush an enemy”. However, the report highlighted that crushing the enemy for China entailed “measures that wouldn’t fly in other countries”.

Osnos said, “They undertook these draconian methods that Americans would not accept. The blunt fact is that the authoritarian system actually helped them contain the virus. People already had this built in sense of surveillance in their lives.”

McNeil said Wuhan was the “most extensive shutdown in the history of the world”. “The officials turned hotels, schools and other public centres into mandatory quarantine centres.”

The report showed videos of people being forcefully removed from their homes and being put into quarantine centres. Doctors in Wuhan maintained that this “aggressive” regime was the “turning point” in controlling the outbreak, it said.

Moreover, the country relied on mobile apps for contact tracing. People were assigned scan-able QR codes which revealed their risk of getting the virus. If the code showed green, it allowed unrestricted movement, yellow indicated moderate risk while red indicated the need to quarantine, it said.

“The trade-off between individual rights and public safety in the wake of a pandemic is one both government and citizens are reevaluating,” added the CNN report.


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China’s reasons

Towards the end of the report, Fareed Zakaria said though local governments in China were involved in “covering-up” the situation in Wuhan, it “remains unclear whether the central government was directing this or complicit in it”.

He also pointed out China’s reasons behind the alleged cover-up. “Most likely local officials wanted to remove bad news from moving upto to Beijing. They wanted to keep their economies buzzing, they feared that their initial incompetence would be revealed but it’s possible that Beijing was involved for similar reasons,” he said.

Zakaria added that it’s worth remembering that China “is a dictatorship and at its core this means that it always seeks to control information, it suppresses free speech, censors news, restricts access all to shape a favourable narrative”.

“Beijing has also stomped up on any purely scientific papers on Covid to be published until they have been cleared by the communist party. There is no such thing as science or research that is hailed political in China, but when a crisis hits even biology must be made subordinate to the interests of the Communist Party,” he said.

However, Zakaria asserted that the outbreak of Covid-19 was inevitable. “China had little to do with the spread of the virus around the world which would probably have happened inevitably due to the extent of travel and trade in China,” he said.

Trump’s misjudgment

Fareed Zakaria also called out US President Donald Trump for his “misjudgment” in handling the Covid-19 crisis.

“Like Wuhan officials in early January, Trump probably made a judgment that the virus would not be a big problem. He said that it would go away in April with warm weather. He too, was worried that taking strong action would spook the economy or stock market. It is those misjudgments that have significantly worsened the Covid crisis in America,” he said.

Zakaria added, “Remember the accusation against China is that they delayed telling the world the nature of the virus for five or six days. Donald Trump delayed acting on information he had for five or six weeks…”

He also said the fastest way to “defeat this virus would be to build an international coalition that would get countries to pool resources, share information and coordinate actions”.


Also read: Donald Trump likely to face re-election with jobless rate over 10%


 

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7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. Kairvy Grewal, what.. It should by CNN. This is reproduced article.. Why ThePrint Kairvy Grewal named it. Yes, reproduction is not a problem but you have to mention by CNN.
    I know nothing happens in India. You can dare to use someone else name in reproduced artefacts in the UK and the USA. I checked other articles from ThePrint too many are reproduced from Reuters, NYT and CNN but using ThePrint staff members name. Shame Kairvy Grewal and others who this kind of stuff, this is a shit work and you should be ashamed on yourself.

  2. China- 5 or 6 days to inform the world!
    I was once told you are what you eat.
    They brought this upon themselves.
    USA- 5 or 6 weeks to react.
    the world shouldn’t blame trump for anything. Blame the people who voted for this man. For a man that has built a legacy of fortune, he is a destructive old man. Disgusting that his own kids won’t bring it to his attention.
    RSA. My country. Had 5-6 positive people.

  3. Rightly said Donald Trump is a morone. I had high respect for the Americans people in the past. Even had one of their flag in my car proudly showing to the world what a great nation America was. But now with all do respect that feeling is all gone. I feel sad for the American people for allowing the Trump family to stole your pride and your dignity and for supporting him in doing so. America was a great nation. You’ve ruined it just to pleasure the Trump family. It’s beyond anyone imaginations that such thing can happen to America. It’s a shame. WAKE UP GUYS TAKE BACK YOUR PRIDE.

  4. I had the greatest respect for the US until the outbreak of this pandemic. I thought Americans were a smart people until now. How come Americans elected a buffoon like Donald Trump as President
    Now due to his buffoonery, Trump has murdered nearly 100k people as at today. And yet he has the guts to go golfing. What manner of a sick man is this? Instead of apologising for his inaction ,he has resorted to lying to the American people and some fools like him believe him. The truth is ,the Trump presidency is the begining of the end of a once great nation. Today America has become a foot note in the world. Americans should bury their heads in shame for electing such a low life as president.

  5. I like the analysis by Fareed on the genesis of covid 19 pandemic. If the information shared by Dr. Li was shared and acted upon with oneness as a precautionary measure, this pandemic could have been controlled at the very early stage. At least this gives some information as so many things have been shared on social media which are now just confusing

  6. Thank god it is now 6 days…I hope Farid has clearance for 6 days from Communist Party of China. He should have published a timeline. For once Trump went soft on China and see what happened. I am too tired to type holes in this analysis but failure to share information on extent of clamp down access to hospitals will add up to months World only realised and got information once it spread outside China.

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