Monday, March 30, 2020

Wuhan Outbreak (March-25): Where Is Patient Zero?

US urged to release health info of military athletes who came to Wuhan in October 2019: Chinese netizens and experts urge the US authority to release health and infection information of the US military delegation which came to Wuhan for the Military World Games in October to end the conjecture about US military personnel bringing COVID-19 to China.

An American journalist claimed one US military athlete in the delegation could be patient zero of the deadly new disease. George Webb, an investigative journalist in Washington, DC claimed in recent videos and tweets that he believes Maatje Benassi, an armed diplomatic driver and cyclist who was in Wuhan in October for the cycling competition in the Military World Games, could be patient zero of COVID-19 in Wuhan.

In a report by the US Department of Defense official website on October 25, Maatje Benassi has participated 50-mile cycling road race in Wuhan. Webb also quoted a military lab, the Fort Detrick laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing organisms such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland, which was shut down and moved in July due to unqualified facilities and management system.

His conclusions, although without strong evidence, triggered questions on Chinese social media as it came only days after a petition was submitted to the White House website on March 10 listing some coincidences in time between the Fort Detrick lab's closure and the COVID-19 outbreak. Many Chinese netizens have urged the US to test Benassi for COVID-19 and release information on the US delegation. 

Li Haidong, a professor of US studies at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the US government needs to respond to the controversy and publish the relevant information regarding their health status and infection record to clear public doubts and help with the scientific study on the virus' origin.

US politicians have been contending the novel coronavirus is "Made in China," while global scientists, including those in the US, have not found strong evidence to prove the virus' origin.  Given this situation, it is important to trace any suspicious points, the US delegation to the Wuhan games in this scenario, and find out what really happened, Li said.

COVID-19, a deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has infected more than 330,000 people around the world and killed more than 14,000. Identifying the origin will help develop effective therapy on the disease. The US should provide information of the delegation members to support related research, Li said.  

Earlier in March, Zhao Lijian, an outspoken Chinese diplomat, raised a suspicion on his personal Twitter account that it might have been the US army representatives to the Military World Games who brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan in October 2019, after a top US health official admitted detecting coronavirus infections on some deceased flu patients.  Zhao urged the US to disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.

US military delegation in Wuhan Military Games in October 2019.

(Blogger's notes: Some Chinese I know used to joke that one can't even fart in Communist China without local Party bosses knowing it. Is it believable that the Chinese Communist Party still does not know who and where the patient zero of the Wuhan Virus Outbreak is? Rumours and innuendos are the natural weapons of the oppressed to counter the blatant concealment and outright lies of the oppressive ruling class.)

CHINA Is Legally Responsible For COVID-19 Damage  

Claims could be in the trillions of dollars: As the novel coronavirus incubated in Wuhan from mid-December to mid-January, the Chinese state made evidently intentional misrepresentations to its people concerning the outbreak, providing false assurances to the population preceding the approach of the Lunar New Year celebrations on Jan. 25.

In mid-December, an outbreak of a novel influenza-like illness was traced to workers and customers of the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which contained exotic and wild animal species. On Dec. 26, multiple Chinese news outlets released reports of an anonymous laboratory technician who made a startling discovery: The sickness was caused by a new coronavirus that was 87 percent similar to SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, sounded the alarm in an online chatroom on Dec. 30. That night, Wuhan public health authorities solicited information on the emergence of a “pneumonia of unclear cause,” but omitted Li’s discussion about SARS or a novel coronavirus.  Li and other medical professionals who tried to disclose the emergence of the virus were suppressed or jailed by the regime.

On Jan. 1, the state-run Xinhua News Agency warned, “The police call on all netizens to not fabricate rumors, not spread rumors, not believe rumors.” Four days after Li’s chatroom discussion, officers of the Public Security Bureau forced him to sign a letter acknowledging he had made “false comments,” and that his revelations had “severely disturbed the social order.”

Li, who has become something of an underground folk hero in China against chicanery by state officials, ultimately died of the disease. China silenced other doctors raising the alarm, minimizing the danger to the public even as they were bewildered and overwhelmed. State media suppressed information about the virus.

Although authorities closed the Wuhan “wet market” at the epicenter of the contagion, they did not take further steps to stop the wildlife trade. By Jan. 22, when the virus had killed just 17 yet had infected more than 570 people, China tightened its suppression of information about the coronavirus that it deemed “alarming,” and further censored criticism of its malfeasance. “Even as cases climbed, officials declared repeatedly that there had likely been no more infections.”

On Dec. 31, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission falsely stated that there was no human-to-human transmission of the disease, which it described as a seasonal flu that was “preventable and controllable.” On Feb. 1, the New York Times reported that “the government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.”

Importantly, China failed to expeditiously share information with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the novel coronavirus. For example, China waited until Feb. 14, nearly two months into the crisis, before it disclosed that 1,700 healthcare workers were infected. Such information on the vulnerability of medical workers is essential to understanding transmission patterns and to devise strategies to contain the virus.

The experts at WHO were stymied by Chinese officials for data on hospital transmissions. China’s failure to provide open and transparent information to WHO is more than a moral breakdown. It is also the breach of a legal duty that China owed to other states under international law, and for which injured states — now numbering some 150 nations — may seek a legal remedy.

Unfortunately, China’s evasions are part of the autocratic playbook, repeating its obstruction of information that worsened the SARS crisis 18 years earlier. In that case, China tried to cover up the SARS epidemic, which led WHO member states to adopt the new International Health Regulations in 2005.

In both cases, China and the world would have been spared thousands of unnecessary deaths had China acted forthrightly and in accordance with its legal obligations. Although China’s public health system has been modernized, observed Jude Blanchette, head of China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, its political system has regressed.

International Health Regulations: As one of the 194 states party to the legally binding 2005 International Health Regulations, China has a duty to rapidly gather information about and contribute to a common understanding of what may constitute a public health emergency with potential international implications.

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