Was China’s response to Covid-19 Culpable?
An Account of What Actually Happened, set against the Propaganda Campaign Against China.
Protocols of the Elders of Missouri
The Other Pandemic
Everyone knows about the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is another viral pandemic, the orchestrated campaign to attack China’s response to the outbreak.
On 21st April, while I was preparing this article, the US state of Missouri, in a local court, launched an action[A] widely reported as suing China, but actually against numerous national and local bodies in China as well as the People’s Republic of China.
Apart from the legalese, the actual details of the complaint read as the result of someone trawling the internet for every attack on China, no matter how absurd or dishonest. So it is a convenient summary of the propaganda or psywar pandemic.
Of course, the corporate media carried the story everywhere. One of the themes was already “China Must Pay”, but the absurdity of a provincial government taking action made them less than enthusiastic. Reporting tended to take it as a serious legal claim, and as such it was thought to be going nowhere, so interest quickly waned. In the US, however, I suspect that the huge army of propagandists understood that it was a script for continuing the psywar.
National Review, whose rant[B] was used extensively in the Missouri action, has published an article[C] purportedly criticising the action on legal grounds. However, I think they got the message. “Use this as a Template!”
Basically the approach is that China has done grievous harm to our nation so it is for our national government to punish them, not local courts.
To do that, it needs to run through the allegations again. It is actually very helpful as it does an excellent job of providing a framework for analysing the claims. It breaks the story down into four categories, which I shall use.
In their words:
(1) cover-ups of the outbreak, including public denials of the risk of human-to-human transmission; (2) arresting whistle-blowing doctors; (3) inadequate steps to contain the contagion; and (4) hoarding personal protective equipment while exporting defective personal protective equipment.
The first two really hinge on claims about dates. So I will begin with a summary of the chronology from Chinese medical and epidemiological sources. This provides the basis for comparison with the ‘truth’ that has supposedly been covered up.
The ‘Official’ Story
For my picture of the unpoliticised story from Chinese authorities, I have relied a lot on the analysis[D] by Tomas Pueyo, mainly for the ease of presentation, but I have also consulted any primary sources I find. The first I saw, and the most useful for a general picture, was the report[E] by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dating from 14th February (online 17th), which analysed 72,314 patient records. This document was the primary source for Pueyo’s data and charts.
Dr Jixian Zhang in HICWM hospital noticed 4 unusual cases of Pneumonia on 26th December 2019, and reported to the Wuhan CDC the next day. Over the next two days, three more cases were found in the same hospital. On the 30th, the Wuhan Health Commission began active case finding. This I presume to mean alerting doctors and hospitals to the unusual symptoms and pathology, and calling for notification. On the 31st, they notified the National Health Commission and China CDC, resulting in the World Health Organisation being notified, the same day.
The next day, Huanan Seafood Market was closed. On the 7th January, what was then called 2019-nCoV was identified. On the 11th, gene sequencing on three strains of the novel coronavirus was completed and shared with the world. Next day, the first test kits were available. (Until then, it would have been impossible to confidently identify which of hundreds of sick people had contracted the new virus, rather than, for example, influenza or the many other causes of pneumonia.)
On 20th January, Covid-19 became a class B notifiable disease. What is rarely mentioned, is that severe cases were already notifiable. Procedures established following the SARS epidemic of 2002-3 required notification of unusual cases of pneumonia. Dr Jixian Zhang did the right thing in this respect. Also on the 20th, China reported that there was human-to-human transmission. The next day, case numbers began to climb dramatically. On the 23rd, Wuhan City was shut down, and on the next day 15 more cities.
Stories of cover-ups and whistle-blowers are intertwined, as they depend on convincing people that the authorities knew details of the outbreak earlier than admitted, and the people called whistle-blowers are as close as they come to evidence.
For example, according to CNN, on December 30, 2019, Dr. Li Wenliang, using the popular chat application WeChat, told his medical school alumni group about patients at his hospital suffering from a SARS-like illness that may have originated from a coronavirus.
In his messages, Dr. Li Wenliang shared details of what would be named COVID-19, urging them to take precautions against the risk of human- to-human transmission.”
The CNN story[F] uses a standard journalistic deception, opening with, “On December 30, Li Wenliang dropped a bombshell in his medical school alumni group on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat: seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and quarantined in his hospital.”
If Li had actually just said that, it would have been accurate, though irresponsible, and in any case was doubtless well-intentioned. Later, where many are no longer reading, buried in the details of Li’s ‘punishment’, and those who have been distracted by the popular communist tyranny theme, the deception is corrected.
“In that message, Li said the patients had been diagnosed with SARS” … “He clarified in a subsequent message that the virus was actually a different type of coronavirus”.
I’ve read countless versions of the Li story, but if he actually said that, none clarify where he obtained this information. The article, in typical fashion while failing to provide evidence provides instead, support for the standard Chinese account. Thus “Chinese scientists identified the pathogen as a new coronavirus on January 7.”
“On the same day in December that Li messaged his friends, an emergency notice was issued by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, … with a warning … organizations or individuals are not allowed to release treatment information to the public without authorization.”
There is no mention that the Wuhan authorities had received information on the 27th December and were following procedures (very probably with the bureaucratic delays that are seen everywhere–although the procedures were intended to speed up responses to serious new outbreaks, there is no way that they could have known by the 30th, when (at the latest) they began to take action, that a catastrophe was developing.
While it is said here that people were warned about releasing information when information was scarce and investigations were under way to find out the nature of the disease and the pathogen causing it, compare what happened in China with the political and bureaucratic cover-ups that are routine where you live. Or with the threats made by Britain’s National Health Service of dire consequences for any staff publicising their negligent lack of preparedness and failure to protect staff and patients with PPE.
The vast scale of the NHS’s (failed) cover-up[G] mocks the corporate media’s much greater publicity over Li’s encouragement to his friends to use their PPE, with no suggestion anywhere that this wouldn’t already be standard procedure in Wuhan, or that authorities were not providing it. (It has to be admitted that, because the dangers were not understood, the equipment in use may have been inadequate, though in Li’s case we’ll never know as, sadly and ironically, he didn’t use it.)
In[H] the context of the catastrophic delays in countries such as the UK and USA, twiddling fingers for a couple of months, assuring their populations that there was no problem, before taking drastic but inadequate action while still totally unprepared in terms of medical and public health resources, the Missouri assertions continue desperately producing one after another variation on the theme, with references that mostly refute the claims about dates, delays, and cover-ups, giving accounts closer to those of the standard Chinese sources. Indeed many of them are standard sources, just given a misleading slant in the claim.
All this in a failed attempt to show that authorities knew what was happening two weeks earlier than they revealed. At best, they knew that something was happening, but didn’t know what.
Much more important than precisely when they knew (something) about the outbreak, is the question about human-to-human transmission.
Much is made of the allegation by Taiwan, towards the end of March, that China, assisted by the WHO, lied and misled the world about the question of human transmission of Covid-19. This was a scurrilous attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to promote their complaints about not being recognised as an independent country, which is by no means a consensus goal in Taiwan. Taiwan’s government was happy, under the protection of US hostility to the People’s Republic of China, (PRC), to have the world misrepresent the situation and recognise it as the only lawful government of a single Chinese nation, with a permanent place on the UN Security Council from 1945. Now it objects to the much more sensible proposition according to which that role passed to the PRC in 1971.
The accusation was simply based on statements from China and the WHO about the matter not yet being resolved.
“China confirmed human-to-human transmission on Jan. 20. The WHO said on Jan. 12 there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”[I]
This clearly says that what evidence exists is not yet conclusive.
Taiwan was richly rewarded, with the proposition that China lied about the matter for weeks. (Some governments also started making noises about Taiwan deserving proper recognition as a separate entity.)
The National Review article had this to say on the subject: “December 31: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declares, “The investigation so far has not found any obvious human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infection.” This is the opposite of the belief of the doctors working on patients in Wuhan, and two doctors were already suspected of contracting the virus.”3
This is the same deliberate misinterpretation involved in the Taiwan complaint. My Google translation of the Commission’s statement[J] has a similar passage in the second paragraph. The first contains “At present, all cases have been treated in isolation, follow-up investigations and medical observations of close contacts are in progress”, and the third and final discusses viral pneumonia, of which the outbreak was a new form with a lot of unknowns, and says “The disease can be prevented and controlled by preventing indoor air circulation, avoiding public places where there is no air circulation and places where people are concentrated, and wearing masks when going out.”
There is no way that the statement, taken as a whole, could be interpreted in the manner that is done in malicious attacks on the Chinese authorities. With any new disease, all manner of things will be “suspected”. Saying something is suspected implies a lack of strong evidence for the suspicion .
The whole business about whistle-blowers keeps doing the round, despite nobody producing anything with any substance. While Li Wenliang gets the spotlight, his role was trivial. There are probably two reasons for the focus on Li. He spoke out, after his encounter with police. (But so did his informant, Dr Ai Fen,[K] who seems to have only been noticed when Australian TV falsely promoted her disappearance.) And he provided great service to the China-bashing industry by dying of Covid-19. He was an ophthalmologist who carelessly operated without PPE on a patient, despite his explanation that all he wanted when he passed on the SARS rumour to his friends was to warn them to exercise caution.
Li’s death is routinely mentioned in stories representing him as a whistle-blower. We know about whistle-blowers in the West. They spill the beans on crimes of civil servants, politicians, governments, armed forces, and so on. In Australia, people doing this public service and exposing official corruption face jail for “criminal libel”. In the US, Manning was jailed for revealing details of US war crimes. In the UK, Assange is still subject to torture and indefinite imprisonment without trial having first been framed with sex offences, an excellent way of assisting the gutter media to generate hatred towards someone who has merely reported the revelations from actual whistle-blowers, and then framed with crimes in the US to back the case for an illegal extradition to the US. If Li Wenliang was a hero for making a bit of a fuss about a disease (not about government wrong-doing), then Assange should be receiving a Nobel Peace Prize. Or rather some equivalent citizens’ award, since the Nobel one has been disgraced by too many war criminal recipients.
Reports generally agree that Li was one of eight reprimanded for spreading rumours. I have yet to see what the others did or who they are, except for Dr Ai Fen. She saw a pathology report wrongly diagnosing SARS, and rather than following procedure and notifying the authorities, she photographed it and passed it on to Li, who followed suit. Eventually the disruptive rumour went viral.
To grasp the significance of this heroism, imagine an American doctor receiving an incorrect diagnosis of a patient with Ebola. Rather than investigating further and/or notifying the CDC, the doctor passes on the story and it ends up all over social media. The CDC, hospital authorities, State and Federal Government, etc all go on TV saying it’s OK, we have no evidence, we’re investigating, etc. Social media now are full of stories of a cover-up, and people are imagining not just one patient but an epidemic.
Back to Wuhan, of course we now know that there was a devastating epidemic in the making. However, nobody has produced evidence that anyone had an inkling of that in December and early January. With that hindsight, authorities reviewed the cases and acknowledged that the offences were trivial, and even that the local authorities had been out of order in censuring Li and others. Of course they were not out of order, but this seems to be a consensus-seeking concession, bearing in mind that with hindsight, the officials may have delayed people taking precautions that the ‘whistle-blowers’ hastened. The central authorities gave precedence to the effect on public health over legal and bureaucratic procedures. Can anyone imagine a whistle-blower in the UK being let off with a warning and then an ‘independent’ enquiry ruling that this was too heavy-handed?
No doubt China does have its whistle-blowers, and when they threaten powerful people, they risk harsh treatment, like anywhere else. However, with all this attention on the handling of events in Wuhan, where is any evidence of that kind of whistle-blowing, or of harsh treatment?
Many of the Missouri references are to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) with a pay wall (which I do not cross). For instance, citing WSJ,[L] on 20th January, not coincidentally the day that China affirmed human transmission, President Xi made “his first public statement on the crisis…[with] no explicit mention of human- to-human transmission.”
So even at the very time that human transmission is explicitly confirmed, we should maintain our belief that the Chinese aim to deceive about it.
Better still, by that time “more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence”. This from a fairly reasonable article[M] critical of a six day delay, which Missouri carefully omits to mention continues with relative honesty, “estimates based on retrospective data.”
The six days are based on the improbable claim of when “Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus”. Even if that were true, it is not an unreasonable time to spend determining the best course of action. The article isn’t accusing China particularly over the supposed delay, rather pointing out the tragic consequences that could not have been foreseen, as the “more than 3,000” was known much later. The Chinese epidemiology published in February shows over 6,000 cases, probably not all confirmed, up to 20th January. However, the cases known as of 20th January would have been much fewer. Still, the article is right pointing out that by that time the epidemic had spread to many other provinces. Quite possibly it may have been travellers passing it on in other provinces that provided the certainty that the disease was contagious.
All in all, it is clear with hindsight that more, and perhaps better, action could have been taken sooner. But compare these delays and “inadequate steps” in a country facing an invisible and, initially, unknowable threat to what happened in so many other countries who had detailed information in advance of the infection arriving.
The unprecedented lock-down measures in China were as clear a warning as anyone could need, but that wasn’t really needed for proper action to be taken.
As of 20th January, 4 cases had been reported outside China.[N] Three days later, when Wuhan was shut down, this had risen a little, with one in Taiwan and seven in other countries, as well as one in the USA.
Taiwan, meanwhile, was demonstrating that lock-down, whereas necessary for China, dealing with a highly contagious disease that was running wild before the situation was understood, was never necessary for countries that took proper public health measures promptly. Taiwan’s complaints about being misled over the question of human transmission are entirely spurious. They rightly assumed contagion from the beginning, restricting entry, testing and quarantining new arrivals, and introducing effective contact tracing. China showed that lock-down, at great economic and some social cost, is fairly effective if the epidemic has taken hold, but Taiwan showed how to avoid those high costs and prevent an epidemic. The Missouri document rants about economic and social costs, and loss of life. China never could have prevented this. Only the governments of the USA and of Missouri State could have prevented all this, but instead acted negligently and recklessly.
It is alleged that China hoarded masks (test kits are also mentioned–other countries managed to adapt to producing these on a large scale. The fact that the US and UK screwed up in this regard is hardly to be blamed on China. 3M has made complaints about China effectively taking over its factories in China and using them for domestic requirements.
The US had a large contingency supply of PPE for use in a pandemic, but used them in a minor epidemic and saved a few pennies by not replacing them. Let’s blame China, but had the US done the right thing and replaced the stockpile, and had they adopted testing and tracing as taught by Taiwan, they would have had ample supply.
The little PPE that China has released has drawn complaints from governments and hospitals across the world for being faulty, raising the prospect that it is keeping quality materials for itself while shipping defective equipment elsewhere.
The reports on defective products seem to be great exaggerations, and it is remarkable that countries such as UK and USA had to import from China due to the defects and shortfall in their domestic production. However, again, if the Chinese government was at fault, what should they have done? Should they have arrested the management of the private companies for selling poor quality goods? Or for getting the best price? Wasn’t it supposed to be a wonderful thing when China permitted production for greed, in the capitalist manner, instead of production for social benefit?
On information and belief, the Defendants’ hoarding of PPE has been motivated, at least in part, by the desire to profit from increased worldwide demand of PPE during the viral outbreak, including in Missouri.
Nobody will win a case against China by projecting onto the Chinese leadership the corrupt capitalist motivations that guide government, politics, and business in the USA. Faulty goods came from Chinese capitalists or foreign capitalists with production in China, not from the Chinese government or communists. Restrictions were placed on exports after complaints were received about defective goods. Because they are communists, the government is to be blamed whether they permit the capitalists to export shoddy goods or whether they try to interfere to prevent it.
All the attacks on China’s handling of the epidemic rely on, and seek to reinforce the false picture promoted by the corporate media of China as a tyrannical dictatorship where the people are fed lies, communications are totally censored, and contrary views are brutally suppressed, all of which is in contrast to the US, the land of freedom and democracy, free speech, and informative and truthful media and political leaders.
Remarkably, the most tyrannical action in China was indubitably the lock-down in Wuhan at a time when the known new cases were running at a mere 400 a day (actually at least 2,500, but nobody knew that). A weak, bumbling form of this lock-down has been repeated in many other countries, and it is hard to avoid wondering whether the criminal delays in taking action in the UK and USA were in part motivated by a desire to engage in an experiment in large scale social control.
China is attacked for doing too much, and too little. Stories about the lock-down in Wuhan focus on hardships that are a feature in other countries that lack the strong community engagement that is part of the strength of Chinese democracy. When it comes to the wet markets which apparently played a part in the outbreak, China is castigated for irresponsibly putting the whole world at risk. So China was at fault for not brutally suppressing the wild animal trade, which would have required very intrusive policing of the resulting black market along with severe penalties for even being minor accessories. Compare the US drug trade, with the mixed efforts to control and to profit from it and to turn a blind eye to wealthy cocaine users.
Despite the efforts to blame the pandemic on a cruel tyrannical state, all the propagandists can come up with is weak evidence of minor (as in short) bureaucratic delays, possible attempts to discourage widespread alarm about matters that were not understood, and very light disciplinary action that would never even be noticed in the UK, where it would be delivered by a hospital administrator, or in the US, where it might not be so light and might be delivered by incognito FBI hoods, in contrast to the open procedures involving Chinese police.
I feel that I have given the review of evidence far too much weight, and if I had time I would replace most of that with comparison of the claimed Chinese delays, cover-ups, lies, and threats, with the actual ones in the UK and USA.
That would be like comparing a molehill with a mountain.