Amid its outbreak of coronavirus that has killed over 100 people and sickened more than 4,500, China refused two direct offers from the US to send infectious disease experts to help fight the virus’s spread, and a third made via the World Health Organization.
It was only as US Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar was disclosing this information to reporters in a Tuesday press conference the China at last acquiesced, telling the WHO it would welcome foreign assistance.
Although the global public health community has widely praised China’s quick – if ‘Draconian’ – work to address the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, the Communist Party run nation is haunted by its secretive handling of past outbreaks.
And even as President Donald Trump has applauded President Xi Jinping of China, the nation’s own citizens have widely criticized its leader and government for lack of transparency, using coded posts on social media to avoid censors.
The WHO announced on Tuesday that China had agreed to let its international experts into the country to learn more about the coronavirus that’s spread from the city of Wuhan to 15 other countries.
The Chinese government has historically tightly controlled the narrative of outbreaks like that of the SARS virus in 2003. Although some have praised its efficiency in adressing the current coronavirus outbreak, others have wondered if officials there have resisted foreign aid in order to conceal the extent of the outbreak. Pictured: A possible patient being escorted to a Wuhan hospital
Although extreme, measures like locking down the city of Wuhan where the outbreak began and disinfecting planes and airports (pictured) have garnered China praise for its efforts to contain the virus that’s now struck over 5,500 people and killed an estimated 131
The virus has now infected thousands of people worldwide and killed more than 100
At last on Tuesday, the WHO announced that China would allow foreign experts into China to study the coronavirus outbreak and the global coalition’s Director-General Dr Tedros (left) met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (right)
It came as US HHS Secretary Alex Azar (center) revealed China had rejected three offers of aid from the US during a press conference with CDC representatives Dr Nancy Messonnier (left) and Dr Anthony Fauci (right)
In a subsequent meeting, Director-General of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (know widely as simply ‘Dr Tedros’) expressed confidence in China’s efforts to contain the virus.
He also tweeted: ‘WHO appreciates the seriousness with which [China] is taking this outbreak & the transparency authorities have demonstrated.’
But that cooperation didn’t come so easily.
In fact, it was rather awkwardly timed.
HHS Secretary Azar said in opening remarks that the US had made multiple offers to send experts, but that that China had yet to him and other health officials up on those offers.
The US, he said, urges China that ‘more cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take toward a more effective response.’
It was a second, not-so-subtle reminder to China not to let history repeat itself.
Viruses have a habit of emerging in China. In the last quarter-century alone, China’s been the origin of bird flu (H1N5) and severe acute respiratory syndrome – better known as SARS, and now known as a relative of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
In both instances, the Chinese government was panned for acting like an ally to the viruses.
Military staff have been brought in to provide extra support to overrun Chinese hospitals
Surgical-masked police patrolled limited Lunar New Year Festivals amid the outbreak in China
State run media have shared pictures like this one of coronavirus pictures, but the reticence of the government to let in outside scientists has drawn suspicions
Secrecy and attempts to downplay the severity of the outbreak slowed public health response-time, fueled the spread and likely led to more deaths than either epidemic would have otherwise caused.
SARS struck more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 worldwide, reaching 26 countries before it was contained.
As another coronavirus plagues the China, infectious disease and public health experts have remained wary but optimistic.
Within a month of the first case of illness from an unrecognized virus (reported on December 9), Chinese scientists had sequenced its virus’s genomes and shared that data globally, allowing other scientists to begin studying it, developing diagnostic tests and vaccines.
Chinese officials have demonstrated willingness to share information that they maintain control over outward, but they have been less willing to let others into the country where observations might be less under narrative control.
Riot police clashed with residents of a neighborhood in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong where resident protested the government’s planned takeover of an abandoned housing project to house coronavirus patients on Tuesday
It’s a phenomenon the Chinese people are familiar with.
On Chinese social media, citizens have used ‘Trump’ as a coded reference to President Xi and ‘Chernobyl’ for the coronavirus outbreak as a way to avoid detection by censors designed to weed out any critical posts about the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, riot police clashed with residents of a neighborhood in the special territory Hong Kong where the government wanted to take over an unoccupied housing project to house coronavirus patients.
But an hour after Secretary Azar’s mention of that China had jilted the US’s offer for aid, the government there chagned its tune at last.
During the question and answer portion of Tuesday morning’s press conference, a journalist informed Azar as well as CDC Director Robert Redfield and officials Nancy Messonnier and Anthony Fauci that China had told the WHO that it would allow international experts in to assist with the outbreak.
She asked for an updated comment, and Azar laughed that he had been on the stage when that had happened, and knew nothing of it.
‘Well I’ve been standing on this stage, so I didn’t hear that, but obviously, if that is the case, delighted with that news and delighted and assume that the CDC would be part of that,’ said Azar.