According to experts, hiding an outbreak of an unknown deadly disease can have serious effects on its control in neighboring China.
Global public health experts call on the Chinese authorities to guarantee transparency about the mysterious outbreak of viral pneumonia.
As of December 2019, 59 people were already infected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, with only 27 cases known at the beginning of January 2020. On January 5, 7 of the 59 cases were identified as “severe patients”.
On January 9, Chinese authorities say they have identified a possible cause of the unknown viral pneumonia, a new type of coronavirus (MERS-CoV). However, they do not provide any information on the possible spread of the disease.
Authorities also did not specify exactly the number of patients currently being treated for the new respiratory disease. According to official data released on January 5, 2020, 59 people are being treated for a mysterious airway disease and 7 people are in critical condition.
Meanwhile, a senior Wuhan official unexpectedly resigned from his post, while authorities in Hong Kong and Taiwan are taking extra precautions to prevent the disease from spreading.
According to the Hong Kong Hospital Administration, there are already five patients in Hong Kong with symptoms of new pneumonia with respiratory infection. All five were infected soon in Wuhan.
On January 11, 2020, The Straits Times reported that the first case of a mysterious virus was registered in Singapore after the patient returned from Wuhan.
The onset of the epidemic has prompted Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan to step up screening for newcomers and patients with symptoms of pneumonia.
Why are they hiding the start of the epidemic?
The Chinese authorities have not reported an outbreak of so-called “viral pneumonia”, and online rumors have linked the virus to severe acute respiratory syndrome ( SARS ), which killed more than 8,000 people in 2003 and killed 774 people.
A statement from the Wuhan City Health Commission on January 3, 2020 said the cause of the pneumonia was unclear. On 5 January, the Commission announced that it had ruled out SARS, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and avian influenza as a cause of the epidemic and is still working to identify the virus.
Although such cases are reported in Hong Kong and Singapore, Chinese officials say there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Until January 5, officials did not announce the date of the first case that was discovered and linked to the Wuhan fire. It happens on December 12, 2019. Wuhan Central Hospital, which treats some of the patients, declined comment, though Chinese and foreign media have been pushing hard to contact the medics.
On 3/01/2020, in an email to Laurie Garrett, a health analyst and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote:
“The problem with China’s current epidemic and response is that the Wuhan and Beijing authorities have provided very little information.”
On January 1, Chinese police detained eight people for “the spread of pneumonia outbreak rumors on the Internet“.
On January 5, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily reported that security officials at Jingintan Hospital had expelled their journalist. All the doctors and nurses at the hospital the reporter saw were wearing protective suits, wearing face masks and safety goggles.
The journalist testified that new patients were admitted to the hospital in the afternoon, the same day. The hospital consists of two buildings, and the publication’s official noted that patients infected with the virus were isolated in them.
The message says:
“Patients undergoing treatment in the North Building are in serious condition. When their health improves, they will be moved to the south building. “
Laurie Gareth commented on:
“China seems more interested in maintaining control than complying with international health regulations.”
In 2005, the World Health Assembly adopted legally binding international health rules that required immediate notification to the WHO of any outbreak. China has signed this agreement.
Taiwanese pulmonologist Kuo Xu-Ta, who was the director of the SARS Center at McKay Hospital in Taipei, during a SARS epidemic in 2003, told Epoch Times:
“The epidemic information should be published immediately! The more the government tries to hide it, the worse it will be to fight the disease. “
The first death – on January 11, 2020, the media reported the first fatal case following a new illness. This is a 61-year-old man who was admitted to the hospital in very poor condition. He had advanced pneumonia with shortness of breath as well as liver problems. It was found that the man often visited a seafood market, from which most of the infected initially arrived.
The man died a week ago from a sudden cardiac arrest.
Sean Lin, a microbiologist who worked at the U.S. Army’s Department of Viral Diseases, said the Chinese authorities may already know or suspect the source of the virus.
On January 3, he told the media:
“It’s not just two, three days … It’s probably been more than a month.”
According to Lin, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control is level because of its infectious disease monitoring program. He believes that if patient samples have been tested in laboratories, the information available now may not be as limited as that reported in official statements.
Lynn thinks the delay in providing information about the new infection is because there are many mutations of the virus that take time to determine or “the authorities have more information but are hiding it .”
“The public was not allowed to learn more about this situation.”
He said the Chinese authorities should allow the media to monitor local hospitals and patients, conduct studies and inform the public about preventive measures.
“The problem with China is that the government has a very bad reputation in public health.”
Hiding official information reminds everyone of the 2003 SAR outbreak and causes panic in China and neighboring regions. In 2002-2003, Chinese authorities covered the SARS epidemic for several weeks, but deaths and rumors forced them to tell the truth.
The Chinese did not warn the WHO or neighboring jurisdictions, which allowed (one) patient to “escape” to Hong Kong. The spread of the virus has led to 774 deaths in 37 countries.
Laurie Garrett was in Hong Kong and China during the 2003 epidemic, and then visited hospitals and memorials in Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong, where health care workers struggled and died from the disease.
“The lesson was understandable around the world: do not hide diseases. Fighting epidemics requires trust, and trust requires openness.
World public health is losing confidence in the Chinese government.“