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COVID-19 and the Code of Silence: 3 Questions No One is Asking

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

The January 27, 2020 edition of the Danish Daily Jyllands-Posten carried a cartoon of the Chinese flag with a difference. The symbolic yellow stars were replaced by virus-like figures. Reaction from China was quick and blunt, as expected. The Chinese embassy in Copenhagen called the Jyllands-Posten cartoon, "an insult to China". The embassy insisted that the paper and cartoonist Niels Bo Bojesen must "publicly apologize to the Chinese people". Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen reminded China on Tuesday January 28, 2020 that "we have freedom of expression in Denmark - also to draw". The cartoon of the virus ridden Chinese flag became viral on social media in a matter of a few days. The world was beginning to wake up to the idea that there was one nation that was to be held accountable for the global catastrophe it had caused.


Back in the US...


The morning of Friday, March 27, 2020 CNN reported that "On Thursday, we (the USA) hit a grim watershed. The US overtook Italy and China as the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is a dire crisis and an extraordinary failure of President Donald Trump. Americans are suffering and dying because the Trump administration failed to act quickly and decisively to prevent the virus' spread."

 

On the morning of Thursday March 26, 2020, the death toll in the US from confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 1,000 which is another "grim watershed". By Friday afternoon that number had reached 1,500 and the US became the first nation to report 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases.

 

Our President does appear culpable because of his demonstrated lack of decisiveness in closing down the nation's borders when it became apparent to the administration's officials that international travelers were bringing the virus to the shores of the US. Today, 5 coastal states - New York and Florida in the East, California and Washington in the West and Louisiana in the South are facing an already spiraling-out-of-control situation in the rise of coronavirus cases.

However, the temptation to blame the Trump administration, irresistible as it is must be overcome if we are to probe the deeper issues. The issues of why do we as citizens of this planet find ourselves under siege today, and more importantly if this were preventable as many society and community leaders have begun to ponder, who is responsible for this near apocalyptic state of global affairs?



Q1. Why was China Silent (for so long)?


There was a time in the 70s and 80s when the world would go crazy over electronic gadgets that were "Made in Japan". In the present times the world has witnessed a near complete takeover by "Made in China". But, no one could have placed their bets on a "Made in China" virus.

Oh, I'm sorry did that sound racist?



What is China Guilty of?

4 counts of near criminal negligence.


  1. China went in denial mode on the virus when it first started infecting humans.

  2. China then tried to gag and intimidate the whistleblowers in its medical community.

  3. The first set of test samples taken from COVID-19 positive patients were destroyed and never shared with the world.

  4. Finally, when Chinese medical professionals did come to know that the virus was spreading from person to person, they allowed millions of Chinese to travel to virtually every part of the globe.

They never let the world know, just how rapidly the situation was going out of control.

Certain investigative journalistic accounts are emerging to disclose and validate this string of events.

The Chronology of the Wuhan Virus Pandemic

 

The first case of a Corona virus tested positive patient surfaced in China on November 17, 2019. But Chinese authorities kept this under wraps till the end of December 2019.

 

People wearing masks attend a vigil for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang on Feb. 7, 2020. Source: Kin Cheung/AP Photo


Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist and physician at Wuhan Central Hospital had warned his colleagues in December 2019 about a possible outbreak of an illness that resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Meant to be a private message, he encouraged them to protect themselves from infection. Days later, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau in Wuhan and made to sign a statement in which he was accused of making false statements that disturbed the public order.

Li returned to work after signing the statement and contracted severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), apparently from a patient. His death sparked outrage in China, where citizens took to message boards to voice their gratitude for Li's dedicated front-line service and to criticize the initial response of Wuhan's security and medical officials to his warning. In the days before his death, Li said “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier I think it would have been a lot better”, in an interview with The New York Times. “There should be more openness and transparency”, he said.


Li was one of eight people detained in Wuhan for “spreading rumors”, according to Chinese media. In a video, he said he was asked to sign a statement agreeing to stop illegal activities or face legal punishment.


November 2019...


From November 17, through December 15, China was witnessing new cases of patients infected with this new disease. By December 15, there were 27 new cases reported. From there on the number of reported cases reached 180 by December 27. That is when China finally decided to release the news of the new virus to the world. Experts estimate that by the end of December, this virus would actually have infected thousands of citizens in Wuhan. Furthermore, every infected individual was infecting other individuals coming in contact with him or her.

 

As is evident now from their handling of the Li Wenliang episode, the Chinese authorities had a pretty good understanding of just how infectious this virus was, but they chose to keep their little secret from the rest of the world. A trait shared by autocratic regimes all through history and throughout the world is the belief that admission of a disaster exposes an image of weakness and incompetence thereby undermining their projection of power and invincibility before the global audience. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, it took the Soviet Union quite a while to admit to the world that, uh, something had gone terribly wrong on their watch. And the admission came only when radioactivity could be detected 1,700 miles away in Sweden... and the Swedes had alerted the world.



The Chinese Communist Party has displayed identical behavior under the coronavirus crisis… it was all "under control" till it no longer was.

 

December 2019...


On December 31, China formally informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the virus and also assured the WHO officials that it was well within China's capabilities to contain the spread of this virus.

January 2020...


On January 1, after several batches of genome sequence results had been returned to hospitals and submitted to health authorities, an employee of one genomics company received a phone call from an official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, ordering the company to stop testing samples from Wuhan related to the new disease and destroy all existing samples.

The employee spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the company was told to immediately cease releasing test results and information about the tests, and report any future results to authorities.

In the first week of January 2020, roughly 175,000 residents of Wuhan had begun leaving the city to travel to other parts of China to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year with their families and loved ones. By the middle of January 2020, about 7 million individuals were estimated to have passed through Wuhan in transit to their final destinations in mainland China or travelling to international destinations. All of this occurred before the Chinese authorities imposed travel restrictions of any kind. Thousands of individuals among these were infected with the coronavirus by now.


It was only on January 20 that Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading authority on respiratory health who came to national attention in his role fighting SARS, confirmed in a TV interview that the disease was spreading from person to person.

On January 23, all of Wuhan went into a lockdown and complete travel restrictions came into effect in some other cities as well. However, by now the community infection process in China had gathered a momentum of its own. Individuals started testing positive in different parts of China indicating a spread of the coronavirus throughout the Chinese mainland.

While this was going on, China still did not bar international flights departing from its airports. It is estimated that thousands of infected travelers had used this window to travel from China to all parts of the world. In hindsight, this could have been prevented if the Chinese had imposed a timely restriction at least on outbound international flights.


 

The 40-day travel rush around the Chinese New Year period, also known as Chunyun, is the largest annual human migration in the world. Hundreds of millions of people travel across the country for family reunions and around 3 billion trips are estimated to have been made by domestic and international Chinese tourists before and after the January 25, 2020, Lunar New Year's Day.


Had international flights been stopped from departing mainland China during this critical period, the rest of the world today would have been a less diseased and much safer place. The powers that be in China chose to look the other way.

 

Source: twitter.com


In that period, 15,000 Chinese travelers landed in Bangkok to celebrate the Chinese New Year. In mid-January 2020, Bangkok reported the first global case of coronavirus outside of China. US reported its first case of COVID-19 infection on January 20, 2020 in Snohomish County, Washington. The 34 year old man had returned to Washington State on January 15 after traveling to visit family in Wuhan, China. By the last week of January, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore had started reporting cases of their own.

 

According to experts 85% of international travelers travelling from China to the world in January 2020 were not tested. Upon their arrival at their destinations the infected individuals mingled with the crowd paving the way for what we are witnessing today.

 

Finally, on January 31, 2020, China put a halt on all inbound and outbound flights from Wuhan. But, it was too late to prevent Italy, Iran, Spain and now the US from replacing Wuhan and becoming the new hot spots for the COVID-19 contagion.


Q2. Why was the World Health Organization (WHO) Silent (for so long)?


Starting from December 2019, when the cases began multiplying exponentially in China, it took the World Health Organization a long wait till March 11, 2020 to arrive at the decision that this virus was now the source of a global pandemic.

For approximately 3 long months, what was the WHO waiting for?


So, what is the WHO guilty of?

WHO is culpable of 3 egregious lapses.

  1. Its unwillingness to double-check the figures being fed to it by China

  2. Its reticence to launch an independent investigation into the epidemic in Wuhan when first reports started coming in, in December, 2019.

  3. Spending those critical initial days trying to convince the world that the Chinese were capable of controlling the unknown virus.




On January 30, 2020 at a news conference in Geneva the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus heaped praise on China.


"The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak," Tedros said. "The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive and beyond words," he said, and noted that China is setting "a new standard" for outbreak response.


Diplomats familiar with the WHO and China claim that China's roles in the global economy and the WHO itself may have played a factor in the U.N. agency's delay in declaring a pandemic. As the NIKKEI Asian Review noted, a global pandemic declaration would undoubtedly squeeze China's tourism and logistics chains, exposing President Xi Jinping and his leadership team to increased public dissatisfaction.

A source familiar with the WHO's decision-making acknowledged that the agency had to consider not just the infectiousness of the coronavirus, but the economic impact of declaring a health emergency.

Yes, you read that right, WHO has to prioritize economics over human lives!

"China and the WHO have extremely close ties," a diplomatic source in Beijing said. China is the world's second-largest financial contributor to the U.N. The WHO's previous director-general, Margaret Chan, was nominated to the post by the Chinese government after spearheading Hong Kong's response to SARS.


China also provides significant aid to Ethiopia, the home country of current WHO chief Tedros. And Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, is a longtime WHO goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.


So, the Director General of the WHO did what was best in the interest of the WHO as an organization and the ties that organization has with one of the 5 permanent members to the UN Security Council.


The WHO Director General is shown as a man blinded by his allegiance to China

Source: picuki.com

Renaming the Wuhan Virus...


A Hong Kong comic artist Ah To, mocked WHO's decision to take Wuhan out of name for the new coronavirus strain through the illustration below, after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it was changing the official name of the Wuhan virus to avoid offending China.



In the first frame, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is seen speaking and holding up a piece of paper. In the second frame, the name "Wuhan" have been crossed out and replaced with the word "Novel." Similarly, in Chinese, the characters for "Wuhan" (武漢) have been replaced with "new corona" (新冠).


In the third slide, Adhanom appears perplexed as he looks at a chick wearing a surgical face mask and spraying graffiti on the wall behind him. The final frame reveals that the chick had scrawled the words "Wu Han Organization" over the "World Health Organization" logo.


The Only World Leader to Speak Up


That is probably why India's Prime Minister Modi (the only world leader who has spoken up on this issue), in his G-20 Summit speech on March 26, 2020 remarked that international bodies like WHO were set up on models of the previous century and that there was a need to strengthen and reform the World Health Organization so that it can adapt to new challenges.


Indian Prime Minister Modi during the virtual G20 summit on March 26, 2020.

Source: Press Trust of India (PTI) in association with India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)


Q3. Why is the World so Silent?


Silence at the G20 summit...


On Thursday, March 26,2020 leaders of the G20 nations met in a virtual summit to discuss current issues. The meeting was conducted through video conference to comply with social distancing norms. Social distancing norms put in place by a series of catastrophic events that originated from a power center in Asia. The leader of that power center, Xi Jinping delivered an eloquent speech on how the world must come together with information-sharing to collectively combat the COVID-19 crisis. It was the first time after China had globalized the virus that its supreme leader took a moral high ground on preaching to the world, the benefits of collaboration through information sharing in combating the resultant catastrophe. By the end of that day (March 26, 2020) the global death toll due to COVID-19 would reach 24,073. Yet, in that global conference, not one nation stood up to question the Chinese on their duplicity and utter lack of probity in handling the Wuhan episode.


Silence at the United Nations...


When the world gets engulfed in a crisis of global proportions, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) or the UN Security Council convenes a session to resolve the issue. It is one of those rare occasions when the United Nations tries to flex whatever muscle it has through the power vested in it by the five permanent members and the rest of the member nations.

Should the coronavirus crisis have prompted some response on behalf of the UNGA or the UN Security Council? Every time Israel fires a few missiles at the militants in Hezbollah, the Security Council gets all worked up on the resulting casualties in Gaza. Members come scampering to the round table and everyone gets eager to vote and decide who is right and who is wrong.


But, here was a gathering storm threatening the very existence of the human race, where all member nations stood to lose a portion of their populations to a virus that had no cure. Perhaps an emergency meeting was the least that these member states could have asked for to show they cared for their people. But, no one did.

Maybe the eerie silence at the United Nations had something to do with what had happened on March 1, 2020.


Starting March 1, 2020, the rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council rests with China. Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the UN and current President of the Security Council has made it clear that there is no need to internationalize the coronavirus crisis as China has demonstrated its capability in containing this epidemic and can therefore assist the rest of the world in following suit.


There, that solves it! The Chinese are here to save the world!

With the abatement of COVID-19 in China and ironically its acceleration in the rest of the world - Beijing is trying to rebrand itself as part of the solution, not the problem. In a March 3 letter to senior diplomats at the United Nations, ambassador Zhang Jun sought to portray China and its president, Xi Jinping as a critical leader in the international effort to halt the spread of the virus.

China is fighting not just for itself, but also for the world,” Zhang wrote in the letter. “China treats its own people and people of other countries in the same way and applies prevention and control measures in a non-discriminatory manner.



For now, our globe is silent, too sick to speak.








 

About the Author

As an American, lived in South Asia and love South Asia as one of the most politically and culturally active sections of the globe. My dad's tenure in New Delhi as a journalist from the Washington Post, has provided me the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent and get to know its people and the nations it is made up of.


Unlike most American kids of my generation, I did not spend my teenage years in the US. Instead I backpacked with my journalist dad travelling the length and breadth of the South Asian subcontinent, as he covered the region for his daily and weekly dispatches to the Washington Post.


As a result, I came to know this melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and people like few in my generation back home can even dream to acquaint themselves of even if they joined the most prestigious of the think tanks in Washington DC.


What do I do for a living? Having worked with the Big 5 corporations, I currently do free lance technology consulting for corporations struggling to transform their technology of today into where they need it to be tomorrow.


I can be reached at carla.stewart019@gmail.com

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2 Comments


Anusha Shanbhag
Anusha Shanbhag
Jun 14, 2021

Brilliant. An eye opening post that should be read by millions and millions of people. Gives a bird's eye view of the sequence of events that plagued the world in the past 2 years.

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uttam pandey
uttam pandey
Mar 28, 2020

Not only WHO president, Italian and Serbian counterparts are also praising Xi with catchy phrases so indeed we are suffering from westlessness disease. These in indeed the matter of concern for both emerging India and Trump's America

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