WHO de­fends China af­ter US crit­i­cism over out­break

Egypt con­firms first coronaviru­s case in Africa

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion yes­ter­day de­fended China fol­low­ing US claims of a lack of trans­parency in Bei­jing’s re­sponse to the new coronaviru­s out­break.

Larry Kud­low, head of the US Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, had said on Thurs­day: “We’re a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in the lack of trans­parency com­ing from the Chi­nese”.

Kud­low also said that Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping had as­sured US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that Bei­jing would ac­cept US help, but “they won’t let us”.

But Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emer­gen­cies pro­gramme, listed var­i­ous ways in which he said China had col­lab­o­rated with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

“From our per­spec­tive, we have a gov­ern­ment that’s co-op­er­at­ing with us...I’m find­ing it hard to square that with Mr Kud­low’s comments,” Ryan told re­porters in Geneva.

“But ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to their opin­ion and ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to sug­gest ev­i­dence for their opin­ion,” he said.

Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said Bei­jing has had an “open and trans­par­ent at­ti­tude” with the global com­mu­nity since the start of the epi­demic, and main­tained close com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ex­changed epi­demic in­for­ma­tion with the US side in a “timely man­ner”.

Ryan also told re­porters that there may be US ex­perts among the 12 mem­bers of a WHO-led in­ter­na­tional mis­sion to China that is ex­pected to be­gin over the week­end.

Asked whether there had been any mis­takes made by Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties in their re­sponse to the out­break, Ryan said: “It’s not the time for us to start pub­lic re­crim­i­na­tion.”

“China and the rest of the world will learn and I hope im­ple­ment the lessons of this.

One of the tragedies of global re­sponse and pub­lic health re­sponse in gen­eral has been that we don’t tend to learn the lessons,” he said.

“Ev­ery­one needs to fo­cus on per­for­mance now, and they need to fo­cus on get­ting the job done and the last thing you tell some­one that needs to get a job done is that you didn’t do your job last week or the week be­fore,” he said.

“We will wait for any foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this re­sponse un­til we’ve achieved fur­ther suc­cess in con­tain­ing this virus we hope,” he added.

Mean­while, Egypt’s health min­istry yes­ter­day an­nounced the first con­firmed case of the novel coronaviru­s in Africa.

The suf­ferer was not Egyp­tian, the min­istry said in a state­ment, with­out spec­i­fy­ing the na­tion­al­ity.

“The min­istry has taken pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures and is mon­i­tor­ing the pa­tient who is sta­ble,” said health min­istry spokesman Khaled Me­ga­hed.

Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties had no­ti­fied the WHO and the pa­tient been placed in quar­an­tined iso­la­tion in hos­pi­tal.

More than 1,700 med­i­cal work­ers on the front lines of China’s bat­tle with a new coronaviru­s have been in­fected, and six have died, med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties said yes­ter­day.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the medics — 1,502 out of 1,716 — have fallen ill in Hubei prov­ince, the epi­cen­tre of the out­break, said Zeng Yixin, deputy di­rec­tor of the

Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion. It is the first time China is re­leas­ing an of­fi­cial count of in­fec­tions among med­i­cal per­son­nel dur­ing the COVID-19 out­break.

Pub­lic sym­pa­thy for med­i­cal work­ers ex­pos­ing them­selves to the dis­ease has surged in China, es­pe­cially af­ter the death last week of Li Wen­liang, a doc­tor from Wuhan who sounded an early alarm about the virus and was ini­tially re­buked by au­thor­i­ties for do­ing so. Videos were also cir­cu­lat­ing on­line about a Wuhan nurse who re­port­edly walks to work ev­ery morn­ing, with her hus­band driv­ing be­hind her to light her away, as she has de­cided to self-quar­an­tine from her fam­ily to avoid ex­pos­ing them to the virus.

Mean­while, au­thor­i­ties said yes­ter­day that the num­ber of coronaviru­s in­fec­tions across the coun­try had reached 55,748, with 1,380 deaths. In Hubei prov­ince alone, there were 4,823 new in­fec­tions and 116 deaths reg­is­tered be­yond what was re­ported the pre­vi­ous day, ac­cord­ing to re­gional au­thor­i­ties. China cor­rected its na­tional numbers af­ter its ini­tial daily up­date didn’t line up with pre­vi­ous data and fig­ures is­sued for Hubei prov­ince, the epi­cen­tre of the coronaviru­s out­break. The Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion said the dis­crep­ancy was due to sub­tract­ing the num­ber of deaths from pre­vi­ous data be­cause of

“du­pli­ca­tions” in the statis­tics from Hubei prov­ince. The data mix-up comes a day af­ter Hubei re­ported a sharp in­crease of more than 14,000 new pa­tients bat­tling the COVID-19 ill­ness caused by the virus, which sparked height­ened con­cern around the world.

That rise was mostly due to more than 13,000 ear­lier cases that were only added to the tally on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO).

The numbers ap­peared to spike af­ter di­ag­no­sis rules were changed for hard­est-hit Hubei, mean­ing that go­ing for­ward lung screen­ing re­sults are also al­lowed as the ba­sis for con­firm­ing in­fec­tions rather than lab­o­ra­tory tests, which are used in the rest of China and abroad.

“We’re not deal­ing with a spike of 14,000 (new) cases in a day,” WHO emer­gency op­er­a­tions chief Mike Ryan told a press con­fer­ence Thurs­day in Geneva. China has been ac­cused in the past of un­der-re­port­ing the dev­as­ta­tion pro­duced by ac­ci­dents and natural dis­as­ters. Sev­eral Euro­pean Air­lines — in­clud­ing Fin­nair, Lufthansa, Swiss and Aus­trian Air­lines —an­nounced they were ex­tend­ing their sus­pen­sion of flights to and from China un­til the end of March. The world’s air­lines face po­ten­tial rev­enue losses of be­tween $4bn and $5bn in the first quar­ter as the coronaviru­s out­break has led to wide­spread flight can­cel­la­tions, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Civil Aviation Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ICAO).

The virus broke out in De­cem­ber, with the ear­li­est cases linked to a food mar­ket in the central Chi­nese in­dus­trial hub of Wuhan. It has since spread to about two dozen coun­tries, prompt­ing govern­ments to put travel re­stric­tions in place.

A check­point is seen at a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity in Shang­hai, China, as the coun­try is hit by an out­break of the novel coronaviru­s yes­ter­day.

A cou­ple cel­e­brate Valen­tine’s Day as they wear face masks in pre­cau­tion of the coronaviru­s out­break at Or­chard Road in Sin­ga­pore yes­ter­day.

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