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China does not want the world's general public to be misled by groundless accusations

By Zheng Guichu | Beijing Review | Updated: 2020-04-20 11:40

An anti-COVID-19 medical team from China to Malaysia is received by Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian (second left, front) at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on April 18 (XINHUA)

China well understands the grim and severe challenges the U.S. is facing in the pandemic. We share the worries and woes and extend our deep sympathies, and are providing support and assistance to the world, U.S. included for sure, to the best of our ability, despite China's own high demand for medical supplies at home as millions are returning to work, and concerns over imported cases and a COVID-19 resurgence persist.

By the same token, China does not want the world's general public to be misled by groundless accusations and stigmatization against China. Reason and civility need to be maintained at this critical juncture. We believe it's a fight of the whole world against the virus, not an in-fight among global villagers, least a bitter rift for selfish political calculations and gains. Global combat against COVID-19 should be a united battle and should have nothing to do with social system or geopolitics. To point the finger at others helps little with one's own country's virus containment. Sometimes, the only effects it generates are hatred and confrontation.

"First Report" ≠ "Origin," Not Equate

Though COVID-19 was first reported in China, it does not mean that it originated from China. Ignorance needs to be overcome with science and prejudice with cooperation. The purpose of finding the virus source is to enable humans to defeat the virus and to avoid repeat of the same mistakes. Any attempt to put a label on the coronavirus is to despise science and common sense.

Up to date, even the scientific world has no conclusion where the virus came from. Someone has used invidious and inaccurate terms and acridly called the novel coronavirus "China virus." AIDS was first found in the U.S., does anyone label it as "America AIDS?" The H1NI virus broke out in North America and spread to the world in 2009. Does anyone call it "America virus?"

The influenza infection rate and mortality rate in the U.S. are both high. Global media outlets have constantly raised the question that the novel coronavirus epidemic and the influenza epidemic are not clearly distinguished in the U.S. The New York Times reported on April 8 that researchers suggested the coronavirus was circulating in New York in mid-February as genetic analysis showed that the virus came to the area mainly from Europe. A separate team at New York University Grossman School of Medicine came to strikingly similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases, said the report.

Peter Forster, a geneticist from Cambridge, published a paper on April 8 on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the U.S., mapping out the early mutations of the deadly coronavirus. According to the calculation of Forster and his team, the first human infection of COVID-19, referred to as SARS-CoV-2 in the paper, took place between September 13 and December 7 in 2019. Forster's paper on PNAS creatively applied "phylogenetic network analysis," which he usually uses to analyze human origins, onto finding the virus origin. After mapping out 160 genetic samples from across the world, he found three major types of the SARS-CoV-2, namely A, B and C. The A type, being the first type to infect humans, are widely seen in Europe and America but not so common in East Asia. And the B type, popular in East Asia, seemed to be largely locked in the region, partly because people in other areas may have better resistance against this type. The C type is found in significant proportions outside East Asia, and that again is, in Europeans and Americans.

The scientific journal Nature Medicine published a report on the origins of the novel coronavirus, again referred to as SARS-CoV-2 in the article. Based on genomic data, it concluded that COVID-19 "is not a laboratory construct or a purposely manipulated virus." Scientists who were part of this study traced the novel coronavirus back to cases before Wuhan. Dr. Robert Garry, professor from the Tulane University School of Medicine and one of the co-authors in the research, told the ABC News while answering whether the virus originated from a market in Wuhan, that "our analyses, and others too, point to an earlier origin than that. There were definitely cases there, but that wasn't the origin of the virus."

The naming of diseases has always been as much about politics and the need to identify a scapegoat, as it has been about accurately labeling a new threat to life. Periodic attempts have been made to remove the subjective from the process. In 2015,the World Health Organization (WHO) came up with an updated set of guidelines for labeling infectious diseases, and warned against using language that associates viruses with a geographic location or ethnic group, in the hope that by halting politically inspired names, it would enhance public health. After all, the fallout from misnaming a disease can be devastating.

Who Is Spreading Disinformation and Who Should Be Held Accountable? Time Line Gives Clear Answer

The explosive spread of COVID-19 caught the world by surprise. However, China's handling and notification is extremely speedy, open, transparent and responsible, as has been clearly demonstrated by the following time line, especially taking into account that COVID-19 is a brand-new virus, it would naturally take some time for China to compass the right direction by making scientific and prudent assessment of its character, transmissibility and severity to stem the spread of the virus. "The speed and scale of China's move were rarely seen in the world," as appraised highly by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

On December 27, 2019, Zhang Jixian, director of the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care at Hubei Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, reported the first three suspected cases.

On December 29, 2019, centers for disease control and prevention and hospitals in Hubei and Wuhan carried out epidemiological investigation.

On December 30, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an "urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause."

On December 31, 2019, the National Health Commission sent an expert group to Wuhan to investigate on site.

On January 3, 2020, China started to send timely updates to WHO and other countries, including the U.S., covering the number of diagnosed, suspected, severe, cured, dead and quarantined.

On January 7, the virus was separated.

On January 8, the pathogen was preliminarily identified.

On January 11, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention uploaded five whole genome sequences of the novel coronavirus online and shared data with the world and WHO.

On January 23, the decision to seal off Wuhan, a city of 11 million, the first time in human history, took only a few days, and unprecedented, comprehensive, thorough and rigorous measures were adopted. These measures go beyond the requirement of International Health Regulations in many aspects. The government understood that life came before the economy. Its extraordinary and decisive leadership met with an equally extraordinary and proactive response from the people.

Based on the above chronological order, the time line of China's response has sorted out China's release of epidemic information to the world, showcasing China's sincerity in promoting international exchanges and cooperation on epidemic prevention and control.

Plus, on January 30, WHO declared the epidemic as a "public health emergency of international concern," and this again proved that there was no delay in China's notification.

Another case in point is, within 55 days, the number of new cases in Wuhan dropped to zero. According to a study in Science magazine, China's firm and speedy response cut the incidence by 96 percent than expected. Researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries emphasized that China's control measures have successfully broken the chain of transmission and bought other countries valuable time. WHO affirmed that countries like Singapore and the Republic of Korea have made full use of the precious time China bought for the world and taken necessary prevention and control measures to stem the spread of the looming crisis.

Wuhan and China have won for the world, and at China's own greatest loss and sacrifice, most valuable time to get both physically and psychologically prepared. Wuhan is a responsible city and China is a responsible major country, setting a model for cities and for countries around the world.

Yet within those 55 days, despite the available knowledge of the virus's trait from China and the repeated calls for better prevention from WHO, the number of confirmed cases for COVID-19 in the U.S. has soared from only about 10 on February 2 when the U.S. announced the denial of entry by foreigners who had visited China in the past 14 days, to more than 30,000! Skyrocketed 3,000 times!

What Has Happened and What Has Gone Wrong?

Richard Horton, Chief Editor of the respected medical publication The Lancet, pointed out the information that came from China at the end of January was "absolutely clear" and "we wasted February when we could have acted."

In its article on April 4 titled "70 Days of Denial, Delays and Dysfunction," The Washington Post emphasized that "from the White House to the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], political and institutional failures cascaded as the virus spread. Despite being better prepared than many countries, the U.S. saw opportunities to mitigate the crisis slip away." On April 12, The New York Times, in its article "Despite Timely Alerts, Trump Was Slow to Act," reported that President Donald Trump "finally took aggressive action to confront the danger the nation was facing" seven weeks after the first coronavirus case had been identified in the U.S. Nancy Pelosi, in her letter on April 14 said that the U.S. leader "was warned in January about this pandemic, ignored those warnings, took insufficient action and caused unnecessary death and disaster. One month later, we do not have appropriate testing. The failure to test is central to the spread of the virus and its impact on those most vulnerable in our society." Professor Martin Jacques observed in his article Chinese vs. Western Governance: the Case of COVID-19 that "now it is revealed to the world that Western governments wasted a minimum of two and a half months. Western governance has proven to be blinded by its own hubris, unable to learn from China until far too late, ill-equipped to grasp the kind of radical action that is required of it."

Dr. Helen Y. Chu, a whistle-blower in the U.S., sounded the alarm on COVID-19 in the U.S. back in January, and reported her testing results to U.S. regulators, only to be told to "cease and desist" and "stop testing." At the end of February, the White House still asked officials and health experts to get approval from the office of Vice President Mike Pence before making public statements on the epidemic. On March 2, the CDC stopped releasing data on tests and deaths. On March 2, Dr. McCarthy from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital said at a CNBC program that his hospital had to "plead" to health authorities to test suspected cases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the medical expert leading the White House effort to contain the coronavirus, reaffirmed in his interview with Science magazine that he refused to let others push him to say that China should warn the U.S. three months beforehand, because it just doesn't comport with facts.

Who has covered up facts and evaded its own responsibility? Who has selling cheap tricks in spreading disinformation? Who has played as indifferent onlookers, dismissed and ignored the threat as a "foreign virus," and indulged in fancy illusion that the virus only infected China and Asians, and wasted precious time till was deadly hit? The answer is crystal clear.

The World Owes China Big Thanks

China merits the world's gratitude and appreciation, for China's arduous efforts in going all out to save lives and minimize global transmission; for China's decisive, timely, efficient and effective measures in combating COVID-19, thereby injecting confidence, collecting experiences and enlightening the world that the disease is by and large curable; for China's graceful and kind heart in the manifestation of its swift and concrete actions in extending great assistance to the contagion-affected countries, in the humanitarian spirit of saving more lives and safeguarding global public health security; for China's advocate both in words and deeds that solidarity and cooperation are the only most powerful weapons in face of global challenges; and for China's persistent pursue of a community of shared future for mankind, despite slanders, smears and dirty attacks in return of gracious help.

China has provided assistance in large quantities, including respirators, medical masks, N95 masks, goggles, protective gowns, nucleic acid testing reagent and ventilators to more than 120 countries and several international organizations. Chinese doctors and health specialists are working hand in hand with their foreign counterparts, both online and on the ground, in sharing technical documents, including epidemic prevention and control measures, as well as diagnosis and treatment plans. Chinese medical teams are fighting the virus shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues in Italy, Iran and many other countries. Chinese local governments, charity organizations and business communities are also joining the efforts and making their contributions.

Why does China help? All its help is out of a grateful heart and out of humanitarian spirit. Helping those countries and international organizations at the latter's request is, on the one hand, reciprocating kindness and friendship extended to China in its hardest time during COVID-19 fight, and on the other hand, acting in line with international humanitarianism and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. China would never stand by and leave its friends in difficulty. As President Xi Jinping emphasized at the Extraordinary G20 Leaders' Summit that "it is imperative for the international community to strengthen confidence, act with unity and work together in a collective response. We need to jointly keep the global industrial and supply chains stable." What China will do at this unprecedented moment, is to increase its supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients, daily necessities, and anti-epidemic and other supplies to the international community to jointly keep the global industrial and supply chains stable.

China's virtuous acts have, in the larger picture, won extensive gratitude and applause from the world. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades expressed his gratitude to China for providing Cyprus with medical supplies and sharing its scientific expertise in the common fight against COVID-19. Peter Pellegrini, Prime Minister of Slovakia, expressed gratitude to China on the social networking platform Instagram as a batch of medical supplies, including 1 million medical masks and 100,000 nucleic acid reagent test kits, arrived at Bratislava Airport on March 19. "We are grateful for China's support," said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, as Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced that China would provide 2 million surgical masks, 200,000 N95 masks and 50,000 testing kits. Luigi Di Maio, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Italy, thanked the Chinese government for donating medical supplies and sending coronavirus specialists to Italy. Milos Zeman, President of the Czech Republic, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs in France, Seyyed Abbas Mousavi, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, among others, have all expressed thanks to China in one way or another for China's assistance in combating the pneumonia outbreak.

Yet at the same time, a bunch of media trolls, pundits, together with some politicians, in returning evil for good, have been sparing no efforts to vilify China.

It is meaningless to repeat their words and deeds, for those are only different tricks to pin blame on others, to shirk responsibility in blind self-entertainment that their lives would be better off if they create a scapegoat and common enemy. How interesting!

Facts and figures are more powerful than fabrications and accusations.

China's sacrifices, efforts and contributions have well protected its homeland, and contributed to the world. China has set a new standard for the world in fulfilling international obligations, as has been widely acknowledged and noted by WHO and the international community.

The ongoing battle is living proof of how much we all belong to a community with a shared future. To use the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic, with all the deaths, illness and suffering that ensued, as a stick to beat others was nothing short of a disgrace. To throw malicious stones, pass the buck and divert domestic dissatisfaction, to make up lies and deceit, to seek excuses and scapegoats for a country's poor response and incompetence in handling and containing the severity of this viral outbreak, all these could by no means help with alleviating the hard situation of that country, least to support the international community's joint efforts against COVID-19.

Now, lives and health are at stake. Enough time has been wasted. Efforts should be spent on saving more lives, not on hysterical biting any more.

It takes a coordinated global effort to roll back a global scourge. What doesn't break you only makes you stronger. The international community must foster greater synergy and work in solidarity till the final victory is sealed.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a senior expert on international studies

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