COVID-19: Beijing shared ‘minimal information’ with WHO in early days

Foreign Affairs

The Associated Press has published another report about the early days of China’s coronavirus response that punctures Beijing’s official, sanitized narrative of a transparent and immediate response to the crisis.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus meets with Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 on January 28. Ghebreyesus tweeted this photo with a note that WHO “appreciates the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak and the transparency authorities have demonstrated.”

The Associated Press has published another report about the early days of China’s coronavirus response that punctures Beijing’s official, sanitized narrative of a transparent and immediate response to the crisis.

The new report focuses on the World Health Organization, and says that China delayed releasing coronavirus info, frustrating WHO:

Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,” and said its work and commitment to transparency were “very impressive, and beyond words.”…

Despite the plaudits, China in fact sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information. Tight controls on information and competition within the Chinese public health system were to blame, according to dozens of interviews and internal documents…

WHO officials were lauding China in public because they wanted to coax more information out of the government, the recordings obtained by the AP suggest. Privately, they complained in meetings the week of January 6 that China was not sharing enough data to assess how effectively the virus spread between people or what risk it posed to the rest of the world, costing valuable time.

We already knew that Beijing dragged its feet in sharing information — some would say there was a cover-up, or at least a mess-up — about the novel coronavirus as it emerged, before taking extreme action starting in late January and effectively suppressing the virus within its borders by March. An earlier report from the AP revealed that ‘China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for six key days’, and the new AP report adds to a body of evidence about Beijing’s governance failures in December and January in reports by outlets including Caixin, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.