By B. Mohan
Faster Chinese action could have reduced cases by 95%
China’s draconian system to blame for spread of coronavirus
China scrambling to rewrite narrative of mismanagement of Covid-19
Class actions filed to #MakeChinaPay
While the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic which has reached epic proportions, China celebrated reporting no new cases late last month.
In the meantime, however, China had revised its death toll in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, by almost 50% just last week, raising more questions on China’s transparency in handling Covid-19.
Over the past month, evidence has come to light that the Chinese Government had ignored warnings by local health workers who were aware of the severity of the virus as early as November last year, and went so far as to bury that information.
Their missteps and negligence led to the mismanagement of the epidemic at its early stages, thereby causing a full-blown world pandemic, which could have been prevented.
A study from the University of Southampton, UK, found that if China had adopted nonpharmaceutical interventions (PHIs) – isolation of the affected, early detection, travel restrictions, social distancing, and restricted movement – one, two, or three weeks earlier than they did, the number of Covid-19-positive cases could have reduced by 66%, 86%, and a whopping 95%, respectively.
China had only enacted a lockdown on 23 January, more than 9 weeks after it detected its first case (which it covered up).
With over 2.4 million cases (approx. 646,000 recovered) of Covid-19 and 170,300 deaths reported worldwide, the situation around the world gets worse; first Italy, then Spain, and now the US is facing dire consequences, with over 188 countries having reported cases of Covid-19.
In this backdrop, the China Communist Party (CCP) has seen an opportunity and is propagating itself as the world’s hero, offering aid in the form of medical equipment and experts to countries struggling to tackle the pandemic.
In addition, they have now adopted a new narrative, of how “the origins of the virus are a scientific question that requires listening to scientific and expert opinions”. This followed after China blamed the US outright for having created the virus and leaking it into China and also hinting that it may have originated in Italy. Now, China is scrambling to find its footing on neutral ground by leaving it to “scientific and expert opinions”.
China extending aid to the rest of the world in this crisis, experts believe, is its way of redeeming itself and diverting everyone’s attention from the failure of its authoritative system to mitigate the situation at its nascent stages, to being the reason for its own – and potentially the world’s – recovery.
But, the damage is already done. China lied, people died, and there is no hiding that.
The big cover up
According to Chinese Government data seen by the South China Morning Post, the first Covid-19 patient in China was detected on 17 November, more than 6 weeks before they reported their first case on 31 December. Data also revealed China had 27 Covid-19-positive cases by 15 December – 2 weeks before it reported its first case.
However, further investigations have not managed to identify “patient zero” yet, hinting that the wet market in Wuhan believed to be where the coronavirus was contracted, may not have been the source, and that China may have had cases even before 17 November.
Further evidence reveals that Dr. Li Weliang, an ophthalmologist in China who died of Covid-19 on 7 February, became a whistleblower for warning his colleagues of the severity of the virus in December, by which time he also knew it could be transmitted from human to human. The Chinese Government said he was disrupting public order and forced him to sign a document stating he would stop.
Li’s case is just one of many.
In yet another shocking revelation, on 1 January 2020, an employee of a genomics lab in China which was testing for the virus, received instructions from the Hubei Province Health Commission to stop the testing and destroy all samples. Two days later, China’s National Health Commission ordered all institutions not to publish any information on the matter.
In addition, experts claim the World Health Organization (WHO) ignored calls from healthcare personnel to declare the coronavirus a pandemic situation as a result of Chinese pressure.
“The WHO announced Covid-19 as a pandemic a lot later than they should have. Many public health professionals appealed to them to declare it a pandemic. This delay was because of Chinese pressure,” said Yaqiu Wang, a China Researcher from Human Rights Watch (HRW), speaking to Colombo Gazette.
After this new information has come to light, in retrospect, a tweet by the WHO on 14 January raises concerns. It read: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
This was tweeted just days after the first death was reported in China and on the same day two out of 41 cases reported in Wuhan were of a married couple, raising the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
It must be noted that the Chinese Government publicly denied the virus was spreading through human interaction till as late as 20 January.
Just last week, China increased its death toll in Wuhan due to the coronavirus by a whopping 50%; they readjusted the total by 1,290 more deaths. Officials had claimed that cases were “mistakenly reported” or “missed entirely”. This raises even more concerns into China’s transparency in handling and reporting on Covid-19.
Speaking to Colombo Gazette, Wang shared that there would have been robust, decisive, and swifter action had the WHO declared a pandemic in time, but Chinese pressure prevented that.
In hopes of gaining clarity on the matter, Colombo Gazette reached out to WHO, but the organisation went quiet after an initial correspondence.
Chinese administration to blame
Speaking to Colombo Gazette, Jagath Gunawardena, a Sri Lankan civil society member and activist, stated that the Chinese dictatorship was to blame as it is their draconian system that has aggravated the coronavirus situation.
“Suppression is something dictatorships are prone to do, whereas democracies wouldn’t. The former sometimes aggravates the problem as these administrations, such as the one in China, are hindered by their own limited knowledge, and fail to realise that they need to act fast before it turns into a bigger issue,” he shared.
He stated that upon gaining knowledge of the virus, China should have immediately alerted travellers and closed their borders, in order to prevent visitors from getting contaminated or the Chinese from contaminating persons overseas.
However, instead, the Chinese Government decided to chastise those aiming to make them see reason, and went as far as to detain them as whistleblowers.
Wang from HRW, however, stated that this was nothing new. “They always detained people, this is not a new situation at all. It is only catching attention now because of the vast amount of Chinese it has affected,” she told Colombo Gazette.
A guilty conscience
In an extraordinary transformation and in true CPP style, China is portraying itself has having risen to the occasion by extending aid to struggling countries, having combatted the situation at home, and also pushing to leave questions on the origin of the virus to the “experts”.
However, although the Chinese Government is propagating that the Chinese system is what is fighting the virus, “we must remember that it is this very same Chinese system that caused it in the first place”, stated Wang from HRW, speaking to Colombo Gazette.
China is providing aid and medical supplies to Europe including Italy, Spain, and France, African nations, Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, Serbia, US, and even Sri Lanka, where China extended a loan of $ 500 million on 18 March to fight Covid-19.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had declared he will seek Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help in acquiring the necessary medical equipment to contain the virus, while European Union (EU) Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed their appreciation for China.
The distribution of aid is part of the Chinese Party’s mission to establish itself as a global leader, wrote Dr. Yangyang Cheng, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, in a column for SupChina.
Some claim however that China may not be able to cater to the growing need for supplies worldwide, and may well be propagating to just rewrite the narrative of its involvement with the disease from that of being the cause of it to that of being the world’s saviour.
This is China’s mode of operation, where they deflect negative attention via aid and financial assistance in order to whitewash its human rights abuses. Of course, countries benefiting from these would be less likely to criticize China, opined Cheng.
China is also known to place blame on foreign nations in times of crisis.
It is evident that China is now feeling the heat due to the growing global unrest over China’s role in failing to contain the virus, as it is seen lashing out nations via representatives and online (read Twitter disputes aplenty), in a bid to defend itself.
And of course, China placed most of the blame on it superpower counterpart – the US.
“This is an age-old tactic of Chinese propaganda which always happens. They are deflecting responsibility and blaming a foreign nation – and the easiest target is the US,” shared Wang, speaking to Colombo Gazette.
While one can’t disagree that US President Donald Trump’s continued reference to Covid-19 as the “China virus” should be frowned upon, it should not be at the expense of holding the nation responsible for the pandemic to account.
Seeking justice: #MakeChinaPay
In fact, some have taken it upon themselves to ensure just that.
A class action lawsuit was filed against China by The Burmen Law Group in Florida on 12 March, which calls out China on trying to cover up the pandemic.
Logan Alters, Marta Reyes, Lawrence Wood, Stephen Clyne, and The Pitching Lab d/b/a TBT Training are the plaintiffs of the lawsuit.
Seen by Colombo Gazette, the lawsuit states: “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) and other Defendants, acting from their own economic self-interest and looking to protect their place as a super-power, failed to report the outbreak as quickly as they could have; underreported cases; and failed to contain the outbreak despite knowing the seriousness of the situation,” and goes on to list the failures by China.
Following this, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (USA), an advocacy group, and Buzz Photos, a Texan company, filed a class action complaint in the US District Court in Texas on 17 March against the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Liberation Army (the official military of China), the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and its Director, Shi Zhengli.
The lawsuit sues China to the tune of a whopping $ 20 trillion in damages “concerning massive damage caused by defendants as a result of Covid-19 release from an illegal and internationally outlawed bioweapons facility in the city of Wuhan of the People’s Republic of China”.
The lawsuit, seen by Colombo Gazette, states that Freedom Watch is suing as their donors’ “ability to donate is greatly reduced by the economic recession and disruption and economic panic and growing catastrophe caused by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
It also states that Buzz Photos, a company specialising in high school sports photography, is suing as the “illegal acts and practices alleged herein by each and every Defendant, jointly and severally, acting in concert as joint tortfeasors, has shut down and closed Buzz Photos’ business and its stands on the verge of bankruptcy. The company lost about $50,000 over the last weekend alone. The company has been forced by the Covid-19 epidemic to lay off employees”.
“China must pay for the huge damage it has done. It comes as no surprise that its corrupt leaders continue to lie and ignore the human suffering they have caused. This is a criminal regime and justice will be done!” exclaimed Klayman, the lead plaintiff, speaking to Colombo Gazette.
In addition, UK, France, Germany, and Australia have also expressed that China needs to be held accountable.
Earlier this week, a major newspaper in Germany drew up a bill calculating the damages caused by the coronavirus which amounted to £ 130 billion, that it claimed China should pay.
The people of the UK believe China is to blame for the coronavirus. In a recent poll conducted by MailOnline, 56% of the respondents blame China for the pandemic.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week stated that we shouldn’t be naïve in thinking China handled the virus better, stating that there is no comparison between countries where information flows freely.
Meanwhile over the weekend in Australia, Foreign Minister Marie Payne had insisted on an inquiry to be held into the origin and handling of the virus, while also questioning China’s transparency.
Sri Lanka, the victim to ‘friendship’
With 304 (98 recovered) cases reported, 7 deaths, thousands in quarantine, and being caught between a rock and a hard place, Sri Lanka is trying its best to tackle the situation, with it now closing in on one month under curfew.
It is troubling that the country that until the first week of March was termed a safe haven from Covid-19, is now well into its third – and at the rate the numbers have been increasing to the double-digit stages this past week, some may even say fourth – stage of the epidemic.
With the first case of Covid-19 that was reported in 29 January – a Chinese lady holidaying in the island who subsequently fully recovered on 14 February – citizens started to panic. Restaurants and hotels refused to admit Chinese nationals, who were claiming to have faced unwarranted racism.
The Government of Sri Lanka felt for China, and along with several Sri Lanka-China co-operative societies, in the first couple of weeks in February, held numerous pirith (recitation or chanting) ceremonies in “support” of China in these trying times, citing “friendship”.
At the time, wven Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was seen attending a pirith ceremony held at the Abhayaramaya Temple in Colombo, where he stated that Sri Lanka would stand firmly with the Chinese due to the close friendship between the two countries.
Civil society member Gunawardena opines we should have closed our borders to China the moment the first case was reported in the country. “When the first case of a Chinese national was detected, they (local authorities) should have stopped all flights in and out of Sri Lanka to and from China,” he told Colombo Gazette.
Sri Lanka continued to keep its borders open, subsequently imposing an air travel ban for passengers from Iran, South Korea, and Italy, which was on its way to becoming the epicentre of the outbreak, on 13 March.
It is interesting to note that China was not on this list.
Subsequently, five days later, all travel into Sri Lanka was banned.
Gunawardana stated: “We are not speaking the truth. China is at fault. The media and the state have failed us as they have remained quiet on this matter. It also seems our Government has prioritised diplomatic and economic relations over their citizens’ health.
“We have to point our fingers at China for letting this become a pandemic in the first place.”
At this juncture, however, one could pose several questions.
Why did the Chinese not inform its “friend” Sri Lanka of the severity of the virus?
Especially after the first case was reported in Sri Lanka on 29 January – two-and-a-half weeks after the first death was reported in China and one month after China officially reported its first case?
Does protecting a country’s citizenry fall outside the terms of maintaining diplomatic relations and cross-border friendship?
Seeking answers to these questions, Colombo Gazette reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, but unfortunately our efforts proved futile.