I Don’t Believe the Chinese on Coronavirus

I Don’t Believe the Chinese on Coronavirus

Ronald Reagan famously said “trust but verify” in relation to the former Soviet Union and treaties. I don’t think Americans should give the benefit of the doubt to the Chinese government, in any context or in any situation. I think the Chinese government has been lying about the extent and spread of Coronavirus. I think their actions speak much louder than their words. And now, suddenly, the way the Chinese count cases has changed, and the number of cases has multiplied manyfold.

The New York Times reported Thursday morning:

But on Thursday, officials added more than 14,840 new cases to the tally of the infected in Hubei Province alone, bringing the total number to 48,206, the largest one-day increase so far recorded. The death toll in the province rose to 1,310, including 242 new deaths.

The sharp rise in reported cases illustrates how hard it has been for scientists to grasp the extent and severity of the coronavirus outbreak in China, particularly inside the epicenter, where thousands of sick people remain untested for the illness.

Coronavirus Cases Seemed to Be Leveling Off. Not Anymore, the New York Times, February 13, 2020

The NYT presumes much in these two paragraphs, chiefly that the Chinese government has played this straight with the international community all along. One sentence, 15 paragraphs in, notes:

Even before today’s news, experts complained that epidemiological information from China has been incomplete, threatening containment efforts.

If we trust the Chinese, we can believe that they have reported everything they know, therefore they’re “struggling.” I believe the Chinese are struggling, and I have tremendous compassion for the health workers, and the sick Chinese individuals suffering from this terrible virus. But I do believe the Chinese government’s first priority has been–and continues to be–to minimize and manage the spread of the news of this disease, versus the spread of the disease itself.

From the very beginning, the very large numbers of Chinese residents and huge swaths of territory placed under travel restrictions, plus satellite data showing elevated levels of sulphur dioxide (produced by the process of cremating bodies) in Wuhan indicate that the problem may be much worse than they’ve reported.

I am very suspicious of explanations like “we changed the way we count cases” a month in to the crisis. This smacks of backing into a release of data that the Chinese have been hiding for a while. There’s ample reason to believe that the Chinese authorities are overwhelmed, but I don’t trust them to fully explain the magnitude of the problem. It seems to be much worse than they’ve previously indicated.

Do I think we’re headed to a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu? No. We caught this fairly early, America is protected by two oceans. Airlines and other transportation providers have reacted cautiously and judiciously. I don’t think Americans are particularly at risk–right now.

In other words: don’t panic. The CDC is very much on top of this. However, we should be aware that the Chinese are suffering much, much worse infection rates and casualties than they’ve reported. Their government is not to be trusted to report the truth, because they value their power to control information–and their people–than they do the lives of those people.

I actually agree with President Trump’s take: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” It won’t be miraculous. It will be the efforts of serious scientists and immunologists working on the problem. Coronavirus–now officially named Covid-19–will be contained and people at risk will have massive help to get vaccine when the vaccine is perfected.

The priority for this to-be-produced vaccine is in Africa and Asia, where governments struggle to protect their populations, and the virus can easily spread uncontained. When the final death toll is tallied, we may find that Covid-19 has wreaked far more havoc in China than President Xi let on. In fact, I think that’s becoming more certain every day.