Mother Jones is a left wing site and David Corn is a left-wing reporter. As a result, there’s a lot of throat clearing in this piece about how President Trump and his allies are desperately trying to distract everyone by making China into a cartoon villain. But three paragraphs in, Corn turns a corner and admits that, based on a Congressional Research Report released Wednesday, it looks like Trump and his allies have a point. As Corn put it, “the CRS report does not cast the Chinese government in a good light.” He continued, “The report’s judgements are highly measured, but it does provide ammo to those seeking to divert attention from Trump’s own actions (or inaction).”
The report says that China “may not have proactively notified WHO of the outbreak,” as it was also required to do: “According to Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, WHO headquarters in Geneva first learned about the outbreak in Wuhan [on December 31] not directly from Chinese authorities, but rather from the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED), a U.S.-based open-source platform for early intelligence about infectious disease outbreaks.”
It turns out that a ProMED user had posted a translation of a Chinese media report detailing the contents of two “urgent notices” about these new atypical pneumonia cases that the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission had sent to medical institutions in the city. At the same time, a photograph of a lab report showing a positive result for SARS had started spreading in news and medical circles in Wuhan. Dr. Li Wenliang, for one, shared this image with his former classmates in a private online WeChat group…
As soon as the WHO learned about the outbreak from the ProMED post, it requested verification from the Chinese government. Under the IHR, a government has 24 hours to respond.
So the WHO notification didn’t come from the Chinese government, it came from someone who posted info on an open-source platform. When WHO asked for verification it didn’t get it for several days. In fact, while WHO was waiting for a response, the Chinese government was busy cracking down on Dr. Ai Fen and Dr. Li Wenliang for spreading “rumors” about a virus. Dr. Li was reprimanded and forced to sign an apology on January 3, the same day the government began giving information to WHO.
The CRS report goes on to say that China also sat on genetic information about the novel coronavirus for at least several days and maybe as long as a week:
China’s government appears to have potentially hesitated before informing WHO both when it determined a novel coronavirus was responsible for the outbreak and when its scientists sequenced the virus’ genome. On January 9, 2020, WHO announced, “Chinese authorities have made a preliminary determination of a novel (or new) coronavirus, identified in a hospitalized person with pneumonia in Wuhan.” On January 11, 2020, WHO tweeted, “BREAKING: WHO has received the genetic sequences for the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the Chinese authorities.” China appears to have determined that a novel coronavirus was responsible days before January 9, 2020, however. Its scientists also sequenced the virus’ genome days earlier than January 11, 2020.
According to Caixin, a respected Chinese news organization, hospitals in Wuhan sent samples from their pneumonia cases to commercial companies for analysis in late December 2019. Several of those companies informed the hospitals that the patient samples indicated a novel coronavirus. One company, BGI Genomics, completed genomic sequencing of the novel coronavirus on December 26, 2019, Caixin reports. The next entity reported to have sequenced the genome was the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Chinese state media say WIV sequenced the virus’ genome on January 2.
The group that finally put the genetic information online in an open forum was apparently the fourth one to sequence the virus in China.
Finally, the CRS report notes that China refused to share a great deal of information about the outbreak, including critical information about how the virus was spreading. China had indications in December the virus was spreading from person to person. When doctors who treated the first patients became ill, that was confirmation that person to person spread was happening. But China didn’t admit this until January 20th.
China has also refused to share information on biological samples it took at the Wuhan market. Only a handful of test results have been released and none from the animals that were tested at the site. I wrote about this here.
That’s a sample of the delays and denials that the CRS report catalogs. It’s bad enough that even Mother Jones couldn’t write it off as a distraction.