Friday, April 03, 2020

Elite Establishment Joins MSM Villifying China For Controlavirus

foreignpolicy |  While the novel coronavirus is changing the world, China is trying to do the same. Already a serious strategic rival of the United States with considerable international clout, it’s now moving into a new field—health.

After initial denials and cover-ups, China successfully contained the COVID-19 outbreak—but not before it had exported many cases to the rest of the world. Today, despite the falsehoods it initially passed on, which played a critical role in delaying global response, it’s trying to leverage its reputed success story into a stronger position on international health bodies.

Most critically, Beijing succeeded from the start in steering the World Health Organization (WHO), which both receives funding from China and is dependent on the regime of the Communist Party on many levels. Its international experts didn’t get access to the country until Director-General Tedros Adhanom visited President Xi Jinping at the end of January. Before then, WHO was uncritically repeating information from the Chinese authorities, ignoring warnings from Taiwanese doctors—unrepresented in WHO, which is a United Nations body—and reluctant to declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” denying after a meeting Jan. 22 that there was any need to do so.

After the Beijing visit, though, WHO said in a statement that it appreciated “especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated.” Only after the meeting did it declared, on Jan. 30, a public health emergency of international concern. And after China reported only a few new cases each day, WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic March 11—even though it had spread globally weeks before.

WHO was keen to broadcast Beijing’s message. “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history,” WHO experts said in their February report on the mission to China. The country had gained “invaluable time for the response” in an “all-of-government and all-of society approach” that has averted or delayed hundreds of thousands of cases, protecting the global community and “creating a stronger first line of defense against international spread.”

China’s “uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures” provides vital lessons for the global response, the WHO report said. Beijing’s strategy “demonstrated that containment can be adapted and successfully operationalized in a wide range of settings.” However, while recommending China’s epidemic control policy to the world, WHO neglected the negative externalities—from economic damage to the failure to treat many non-coronavirus patients, psychological woes, and human rights costs.

It’s not surprising that China’s containment strategy was effective, said Richard Neher, virologist at the University of Basel. “The big lockdown, centralized quarantine, and contact tracing for sure accelerated the decline,” Neher said. Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, points to “major human rights” concerns with the lockdown techniques pioneered in China and now—to a different degree—adopted in many nations. Gostin recommends standard public health measures like testing, treatment, contact tracing, and isolation or quarantine “as scientifically justified.”

While the rising number of cases elsewhere shows that China isn’t alone in failing in the initial stages of an outbreak, the full story of the Chinese loss will probably never be known—and certainly not recognized by WHO or other bodies.

One reason is that official data from China is often highly dubious—which can lead to ill-advised health policies in other countries, since studies based on information from China are the first used to understand COVID-19. Countless cases of people dying at home in Wuhan—some being described in social media posts—will probably never go into the statistics. And while a report by Caixin on the Chinese province of Heilongjiang said that a considerable percentage of asymptomatic cases has not been reported—which amounts to about 50 percent more known infections in China, according to a South China Morning Post report on classified government data—WHO takes numbers reported by Beijing at face value.