NYT visualization: How the Chinese government enabled the spread of coronavirus

A must-see. The Times gave its feature the anodyne headline “How the Virus Got Out,” but scroll through it and the culpability of the ChiCom regime becomes bracingly clear. Seven million people, many infected, left Wuhan and started seeding outbreaks around the world during the first three weeks of January while the Chinese government was busy assuring everyone that there was no cause for alarm.

Two months later, we’re staring at a global depression and potentially millions of people dead before this thing burns itself out.

However much we end up punishing them, it’ll never be enough.

There’s a report out today that the White House is nudging federal agencies to make sure everyone understands that China’s government is to blame. The media (parts of which also underplayed the threat from COVID-19 early on) is making frowny faces about that messaging for various reasons. Some think it’s a needless distraction from the domestic mobilization effort to manage the outbreak; some think it’s “unhelpful” to be bickering with China at a moment when countries would be well-served to work together; some think it’s racist, of course; and some think it’s a cynical move by Trump to deflect attention from his own managerial failures by refocusing the public on Beijing’s failings.

We can debate whether there’s truth to any of those critiques. What’s beyond debate is that the White House is correct on the merits.

The talking points appear to have originated in the National Security Council. One section of the cable reads “NSC Top Lines: [People’s Republic of China] Propaganda and Disinformation on the Wuhan Virus Pandemic.”

“Chinese Communist Party officials in Wuhan and Beijing had a special responsibility to inform the Chinese people and the world of the threat, since they were the first to learn of it,” the cable reads. “Instead, the… government hid news of the virus from its own people for weeks, while suppressing information and punishing doctors and journalists who raised the alarm. The Party cared more about its reputation than its own people’s suffering.”

Correct. And it’s worth making sure the world knows it given the ChiCom propaganda effort to pin the mess they’ve made, the most costly blunder in modern human history, on the United States. The blame goes beyond the cover-up in Wuhan in January too, notes Shadi Hamid:

Because the Chinese Communist Party was pretending that there was little to be concerned about, Wuhan was a porous purveyor of the virus. The government only instituted a lockdown in Wuhan on January 23—seven weeks after the virus first appeared. As events in Italy, the United States, Spain, and France have shown, quite a lot can happen in a week, much less seven. By then, mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted that more than 5 million people had already left Wuhan.

If that weren’t enough, we can plumb recent history for an even more damning account. In a 2019 article, Chinese experts warned it was “highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.” In a 2007 journal article, infectious-disease specialists published a study arguing that “the presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.” It was ignored.

There will never again be business as usual between the United States and China. Hopefully there won’t be war — one global catastrophe in a lifetime is enough, thanks — but between the shortages we’re now experiencing and the resentment Americans will feel towards Beijing after their family members start dying off in numbers from this plague, even the free-traders of the future will make exceptions for China. Watching them try to blame us to dodge accountability for the calamity they’ve bequeathed to the world is salt in an open, bleeding wound.

In lieu of an exit question, below you’ll find an encouraging note from South Korea on an otherwise grim day, the first of many to come. Koreans continue to manage their own outbreak expertly through a combination of fast, easy, widely available testing like you see in the clip and extensive use of precautions like masks and social distancing measures. I think we can eventually catch up to them on testing — there’s already a 45-minute coronavirus test for hospitals that’s coming online here — and all of us are getting a crash course in social distancing right now. Masks, however, will likely be a problem for months and I don’t know how we easily solve it. Normally we’d order more from China but, well, you know.