China has always had a transparency issue.
Beijing’s handling of the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan nearly two years ago was shrouded in secrecy.
A major cover-up by the ruling Communist Party triggered a witchhunt against “whistleblowers” and medical staff warning of an impending epidemic.
Nearly two years later, more than five million people have died worldwide from the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen. But the source of the virus is still unknown and controversy surrounds early data gathered in Wuhan.
Fast forward to this week, and Peking University has released a treasure trove of statistics into what would have happened if China had relaxed its “zero-tolerance” approach to Covid-19.
“[There could have been] 630,000 coronavirus infections a day. The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak, which would almost certainly [have] put an unbearable burden on the medical system,” the report, published in China CDC Weekly by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed.
- China has mountains of stats.
- But tends to release only positive numbers to brandish the Party’s credentials.
- Bad news is usually suppressed or watered down.
- In June, chunks of coronavirus data that went missing for more than a year miraculously turned up.
- Scientists in the United States discovered at least 200 genetic sequences from patients infected in the initial outbreak.
- Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, wrote at the time that it seemed “likely the sequences were deleted to obscure their existence.”
Delve deeper: President Xi Jinping’s government has tried to blame other nations for its own incompetence when dealing with the Wuhan crisis. A World Health Organization fact-finding mission to the Chinese city earlier this year came up with more questions than answers.
Fake news: “False information about Covid-19 has been a major focus [for Beijing]. For example, accounts on social networking sites have asserted that the novel coronavirus emerged in the United States before China and that it was developed by the US military,” the Reuters news agency reported in September.
Big picture: China has reported just 98,672 cases and only 4,636 deaths. The figures are incredibly low for a population of nearly 1.4 billion. The numbers have become a source of pride for the Communist Party and its policies.
What was said: “It is understandable that the characteristics of Western society make it difficult to take China’s anti-Covid-19 route. But Western public opinion attacking China’s dynamic zero-case policy is a serious betrayal of the spirit of seeking truth from facts,” the state-controlled Global Times stated in an editorial this week.
Alternative view: As long as those “facts” can be trusted and independently verified.
China Factor comment: Global governments are scrambling to cope with a new variant, officially known as Omicron by the WHO. Detected in South Africa, health chiefs have praised Pretoria for alerting the world so quickly. A far cry from Beijing’s reaction to the original virus outbreak in 2019.