China’s six-day delay in reporting Wuhan outbreak warrants scrutiny as details emerge

A previous post is entitled:

Broad outline of how different countries have responded to COVID-19 is now emerging

At that post I refer to differences in how countries have responded to the new coronavirus pandemic. Such differences can be accounted for to some extent through analysis of the intersection of geopolitics and history.

For the current post, my purpose is to bring attention to the initial delay in China’s reporting of the Wuhan pandemic. The dynamics associated with such a delay are of interest from the perspective of public relations within a particular system of governance. The dynamics are of interest, as well, from the perspective of the worldwide consequences of such a delay.

The public relations imperatives at play are not restricted to a country such as China. Delays as they relate to social distancing/physical distancing in the context of what I would define as public relations imperative have also been at play, for varied and respective reasons related to public relations and governance, in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Brazil by way of example.

Public relations operates at many levels, including the level of ‘seeing like a state.’ I have an interest in public relations especially at the local level (as it relates in, in terms of my own immediate interests, to land use decision making and local history) given that much of my volunteer work over the past three decades has concerned itself with shaping of stories in the context of community self-organizing. Whatever level we view public relations from, and whatever purposes are served by public relations, the dynamics involved demonstrate certain similarities.

The following overview is from the above-mentioned previous post.

China’s initial withholding of facts related to spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan has been noted

A March 29, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “China Created a Fail-Safe System to Track Contagions. It Failed: After SARS, Chinese health officials built an infectious disease reporting system to evade political meddling. But when the coronavirus emerged, so did fears of upsetting Beijing.”

An excerpt reads:

This triumphant narrative obscures the early failures in reporting cases, squandered time that could have been used to slow infections in China before they exploded into a pandemic.

“According to the rules, this of course should have been reported,” Yang Gonghuan, a retired health care official involved in establishing the direct reporting system, said in an interview. “Of course they should have seized on it, found it, gone to understand it.”

An April 14, 2020 CBC article is entitled; “Beijing’s pandemic response is China’s ‘Chornobyl moment,’ critics say: Letter signed by 100 experts accuses China of making the pandemic worse by withholding facts.”

An excerpt reads:

Based on that false information Canada received from the WHO, the federal government did not close Canadian airports to Chinese travellers until relatively late in the process, allowing the virus to spread in Canada, Burton told Radio Canada International.

“I think that it is important that the fact of the matter should be laid bare so that we can avoid future incidents where Chinese misinformation leads to the loss of Canadian lives,” Burton said.

An April  14, 2020 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “The Chinese Communist Party’s culture of corruption and repression has cost lives around the world.”

An excerpt reads:

There is authoritative and compelling evidence that if President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had intervened and reported on its coronavirus outbreak three weeks earlier, transmission of COVID-19 could have been reduced significantly around the world. One study, from the University of Southampton, even suggested transmission could have been reduced by 95 per cent.

For 40 days, Mr. Xi’s CCP concealed, destroyed, falsified and fabricated information about the rampant spread of COVID-19 through its massive state-sanctioned surveillance and suppression of data; misrepresentation of information; silencing and criminalizing of dissent; and the disappearance of whistleblowers – all of which reflect the breadth of criminality and corruption in the party.

An April 15, 2020 Associated Press article is entitled: “China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.”

An excerpt reads:

Six days.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.

But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. China’s attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has infected almost 2 million people and taken more than 126,000 lives.

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”

Other experts noted that the Chinese government may have waited on warning the public to stave off hysteria, and that it did act quickly in private during that time.

But the six-day delay by China’s leaders in Beijing came on top of almost two weeks during which the national Center for Disease Control did not register any cases from local officials, internal bulletins obtained by the AP confirm. Yet during that time, from Jan. 5 to Jan. 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not just in Wuhan but across the country.

It’s uncertain whether it was local officials who failed to report cases or national officials who failed to record them. It’s also not clear exactly what officials knew at the time in Wuhan, which only opened back up last week with restrictions after its quarantine.

Spread of COVID-19 from Wuhan

An April 16, 2020 Reuters article is entitled: “How coronavirus hitched a ride through China.”

An excerpt reads:

It’s uncertain whether it was local officials who failed to report cases or national Several people have been labelled super spreaders of the disease in its earliest days. Most of them had direct links to Wuhan, living in the city or travelling for work.

An April 16, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “As Coronavirus Fades in China, Nationalism and Xenophobia Flare: Now that the pandemic is raging outside China’s borders, foreigners are being shunned, barred from public spaces and even evicted.”

An excerpt reads:

Some of the uglier manifestations of nationalism have been fueled by government propaganda, which has touted China’s response to the virus as evidence of the ruling Communist Party’s superiority. And recriminations from abroad, including calls to make China pay for the pandemic that began there, have triggered defensiveness on the part of many Chinese.

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