Terry McLaughlin: Timeline to the pandemic shows what we know about China’s transparency
The Chinese Communist Party has manipulated its people, doctors, and flow of accurate information about the coronavirus to the rest of the world.
With new information emerging each day, we do know this:
Dec. 8 – First official account of an infected patient appears, though documents now indicate there was knowledge of patients in Wuhan Province as early as Nov 17.
Dec. 27– Dr. Zhang Jixian, from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, reports to Wuhan health officials that the infection was caused by a new coronavirus.
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Dec. 30 – Dr. Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, shares a report of a contagious, SARS-like virus with her department on a Chinese social media platform. Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan shares the report with former medical school classmates, warning them to take precautionary measures. Both are reprimanded by the hospital for “spreading rumors.” Later than day, a notice from the Wuhan Health Commission warns health workers not to spread information about the “unknown pneumonia,” or face potential penalties.
Dec. 31 – Wuhan Health Commission confirms 27 cases of a “preventable and controllable” unknown pneumonia disease, and notifies the World Health Organization (WHO). The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto discovers Chinese authorities began censoring keywords such as “Wuhan Unknown Pneumonia” from social media.
Jan. 1 – A Hubei Provincial Health Commission official tells a genomics company to stop testing and to destroy all existing virus samples.
Jan. 2 – The National Health Commission instructs researchers to destroy virus samples or hand them over to designated agencies. The punishment of eight Wuhan medical workers who had shared information about the virus online and were accused of “rumor-mongering” was broadcast on China’s national television as a form of intimidation.
Jan. 4 – Beijing sends a team of medical experts to Wuhan.
Jan. 6 – Beijing declines offers of medical expertise from U.S. CDC, and other U.S. health officials.
Jan. 7 – Dr. Li Wenliang contracts the virus while treating an infected patient. President Xi Jinping issues the first containment order, which is not made public until February.
Jan. 9 – Xu Jianguo, a lead expert in the response team, tells Chinese state media that researchers mapped the full virus sequence two days earlier and believe it is a new coronavirus.
Jan. 11 – China records its first death and Chinese health authorities share the genome sequence with WHO.
Jan. 14 – During a teleconference with provincial health officials to convey instructions from President Xi, internal Chinese documents show that the head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, acknowledged human-to-human transmission was likely. The memo said that because of the possible spread of the virus abroad, the “risk of transmission is high … All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic.” (Reported by AP on April 15) That day, China tells WHO that authorities have found “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
Jan. 18 – Local officials hold a potluck banquet in Wuhan for 40,000 families.
Jan. 20 – Chinese doctor Zhong Nanshan confirms the disease can be spread from human to human. He notes that one patient had infected 14 health workers.
Jan 23 – China locks down Wuhan, but allows travel outside of China – allowing an estimated 5 million untested Chinese to leave the country.
Jan. 24 – 13 other cities in Hubei Province are placed under lockdown.
Jan/Feb – Evidence obtained from the Chinese Government Customs Duty Union shows that in January and February China bought 18 times the normal amount of masks and personal protective equipment. “Over two billion masks alone. They increased their expenditures of both goggles and gloves … China vacuumed up all of the personal protective equipment around the world while it was hiding the virus … and are now selling it back to the world at prices that are obscene.” (Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing, in an April interview).
Feb. 6 – President Xi Jinping directs China’s internet watchdog to tighten control over social media platforms (South China Morning Post). Citizen journalist Chen Qiushi disappears in Wuhan after posting cell phone videos of packed hospitals (New York Times).
Feb. 7 – New York Times reports that China had been ignoring both CDC and WHO offers of help for weeks.
Feb. 11 – Betsy McCaughey, former New York lieutenant governor and chairwoman of Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, reports that Chinese officials are offering cash or free masks to anyone who reports sick neighbors. Suspected virus carriers are being dragged from their homes and trucked to quarantine warehouses, where medical care is lacking.
Feb. 19 – Press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters covering the outbreak are revoked.
Feb. 26 – The Guardian reports that Li Zehua, citizen journalist, is detained.
March 11 – WHO declares global outbreak to be a pandemic, after the virus had already spread to 114 countries. Researchers from University of Southampton in the United Kingdom report that if Beijing had acted three weeks sooner, 95% of its cases could have been avoided.
April 18 – Retired Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata sums up China’s culpability: “This is a communist dictatorship that hid the information … knowing how bad it was …They suppressed whistleblowers who were trying to talk about how bad this was, particularly the human-to-human contagion aspect … They shut down travel to protect themselves. But they let others who were infected go around the world.”
While the release of the virus may have been accidental, the evidence is showing that once the Chinese Communist Party understood the medical and economic consequences to its own country, they hid information, hoarded personal protective equipment, and knowingly unleashed the virus on the rest of the globe, perhaps to “level the playing field.”
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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