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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Nurse with Mask (Image source: Public domain)
There has been suspicion lately that China was less than honest when reporting on the effects of coronavirus on the country, specifically with the numbers. This matters a great deal, as the rest of the world prepared for this virus through China's experiences, or rather through what was believed to be China's experiences.
Three officials, who asked not to be identified, did not detail the contents of this secret report. They noted that the incomplete numbers from China were intentional. It was ultimately decided, according to two officials, that China's numbers are fake. The White House received the intel report last week, according to one official.
The coronavirus began in the Hubei province of China late last year, but publicly it has only reported about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, according to data. The United States has twice the number of cases and more deaths as well. It also has the largest publicly-reported outbreak in the world.
"The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming," said Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday. "What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.
China eventually imposed a very strict lockdown on its citizens, but inside the country as well as outside, questions were raised about the numbers that were reported. The government in China revised its methodology for tabulating cases multiple times. For weeks they never included people who tested positive yet didn't show symptoms. When they did on Tuesday, it only added 1,500 cases to its total.
Evidence of more deaths than what was reported exists in the stacks of thousands of urns outside funeral homes in the Hubei province.
Republicans have been critical of China and its role in the coronavirus pandemic. Doing so could help Donald Trump politically. Much blame has been placed on him for not taking it seriously in the beginning. He initially called it a hoax, but once he could no longer deny the pandemic, he started heaping blame on China. While there hasn't been enough supplies or testing in the U.S., the case could be made that the reasoning is because China wasn't honest about its numbers.
"The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false," said Sen Ben Sasse (R-NE) in a statement. "Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: the Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime."
State Department immunologist Deborah Birx, who is on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in her remarks on Tuesday that China's public reporting did influence assumptions throughout the world regarding coronavirus COVID-19.
"The medical community made — interpreted the Chinese data as: this was serious but smaller than anyone expected," Birx said at the press briefing. "Because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain."
Western officials believe China is joined in the reports of incorrect numbers by Iran, Russia, Indonesia, and North Korea. The latter country has still not reported even one case. Saudi Arabia and Egypt may not be reporting truthful numbers either.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly urged China and other countries to be more transparent about the effects of the coronavirus. He has also accused China multiple times of covering up the extent of the situation and being slow to share information. This was particularly so after COVID-19 first emerged. He has also accused China of blocking aid efforts by American experts.
"This data set matters," he said at a news conference on Tuesday. Developing solutions and public-health measures to fight the coronavirus "so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired," he explained.
"I would urge every nation: do your best to collect the data. Do your best to share that information," he said. "Were doing that."
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