Saturday, January 9, 2021

China Bans WHO Investigators From Wuhan

(Natalie Brown’s article from the NEWS.COM Australia on 06 January 2021.)

WHO investigators have been banned from Wuhan by Chinese authorities, as another province goes into “wartime” mode over a new outbreak.

World Health Organisation (WHO) investigators have been denied access to Wuhan – the province largely thought to be where the coronavirus originated in late 2019 – by Chinese authorities, as another province goes into “wartime” mode over a new outbreak.

According to reports, Beijing is avoiding the independent WHO probe – expected to take between four and five weeks – in a bid to evade being held accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 1.8 million people worldwide.

Despite a member of the 10-person team telling the BBC the inquiry isn’t about finding a “guilty country” but to understand how similar pandemics could be avoided, Chinese officials are yet to finalise permission for their arrivals.

“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters yesterday at a press conference in Geneva.

“I’m very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute. I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team.”

The investigation comes as the Chinese province of Hebei plunged into “wartime” mode to combat an outbreak of 59 cases in the last three days, thought to be linked to gatherings. Officials have launched mass testing for the city’s 11 million residents and schools have shuttered, with the infections thought to be traced to social events like funerals and weddings in the village of Xiaguozhuang.

The village has now been sealed off, with any gatherings or visits between relatives now banned. Police have also reportedly set up roadblocks on routes out of the county. Respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, Wang Guangfu, told the Global Times that the possibility of an asymptomatic spreader “could not be ruled out”. Feng Zijian, an expert from the China CDC, told the publication the source of the infection is likely from Europe.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’d been “assured that China is speeding up the internal procedures for the earliest possible deployment”, the WHO’s Dr Michael Ryan said the officials had still not been given visa clearances. One official was sent back home and the other is staying in a third country until they are granted entry.

“We trust and we hope that this is just a logistic and bureaucratic issue (and) will be resolved quickly,” Dr Ryan said. “This is frustrating and as the Director-General has said this is disappointing. We trust in good faith we can solve these issues in coming hours and recommence the deployment of the team as urgently as possible.”

China has repeatedly pushed aside rhetoric from leaders like US President Donald Trump -who has referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” or “Kung Flu” on multiple occasions – that they’re to blame for the pandemic.

Wuhan plans to host “more gatherings, celebrations” in2021

Wuhan plans to host “more gatherings, celebrations” in 2021, warning Westerners to “get used to it”. Just days ago, the Global Timespublished a story about Wuhan hosting “more gatherings, celebrations” in the new year and telling the “West” to “get used to it”.

“More big gatherings like the New Year celebrations, sports events and live concerts will be staged in Wuhan, which was the hardest-hit city in China by COVID-19, during 2021, and the world had better get used to it, Wuhan residents said, calling on some Westerners to save their fellow countrymen following Chinese experiences rather than attacking Wuhan’s gatherings with prejudice and hostility,” the article read.

“When large crowds of Wuhan residents took to streets and launched balloons to celebrate the arrival of 2021 on New Year’s Eve, in sharp contrast with what Western media called a ghost town like Times Square with roads closed but no live audience, some Westerners with jealous eyes were sarcastic about Wuhan.”  

Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson asked, "How has Wuhan achieved this without a vaccine?" while posting the news about Wuhan residents' celebrations of the New Year in her tweet. She even questioned whether the footage of the celebrations was staged.

Her sarcasm apparently achieved the opposite effect, with some netizens listing Wuhan's effective epidemic prevention and control measures taken so far and blaming the British government for failing to be responsible.

A Twitter user posted, "They have a functioning Test, Trace and Isolate system and they wear masks. They stayed home when they were told to and they acted swiftly. We have an incompetent government whose main aim of dealing with the virus is to make their friends rich."

Some netizens also criticized Pearson for writing false epidemic prevention stories. She wrote in a story published in July that she refused to wear a mask, and then in November called on Britain to cancel lockdowns.

"So what did they do in China? Lockdowns, school closures, travel bans, mass testing, contact tracing, and masks. The sort of thing you opposed every step of the way this year (2020). Thanks a lot," a netizen named Sam Bowman posted. He made nine posts to refute what Pearson said in these stories. 

Some Wuhan residents reached by the Global Times called the sarcastic comments "sour grapes," and said that their lives had returned to normal months ago, and more gatherings like the New Year celebration would be held in the city.  

For many Wuhan residents who emerged from the shadow of the epidemic last April, when the 76-day-lockdown was lifted, it's quite normal to have such celebrations, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

A massive swimming pool party attended by thousands of people in Wuhan in August 2020 shocked many people in Western countries who could not believe that Wuhan could recover so soon after being ravaged by the virus for months.

Wuhan was declared free of COVID-19 as last domestic patient left hospital in April. Although winter has set in, Wuhan is still safe, Yang said. According to Wuhan media, about 30,000 customers visited 30 shopping malls in Hankou district in Wuhan on January 1, and residents all wear masks when attending public events.

Yang said that as a journalist, Pearson should better relate China's experience in controlling the epidemic to her countrymen and government to help the UK control the spread of the virus, instead of being jealous and hostile about Wuhan's celebration.