WHO defends China after US criticism over outbreak
Egypt confirms first coronavirus case in Africa
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.