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News that Chinese officials have ordered a county in central China back on lockdown has some questioning whether President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party took its coronavirus victory lap too soon and what that might mean for other countries using China’s template.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that had China been truly transparent about COVID-19, there is “no question” the world would have been in a better place to respond.
“There’s simply no question that China’s lack of candor to the world impacted the way the world was able to respond,” Pence said Thursday in an interview on Fox News Radio’s “The Brian Kilmeade Show.”
Pence’s comments come on the heels of China ordering residents in Jai county, part of the Henan province which borders Hubei, considered to be the epicenter of the global pandemic, back on lockdown amid fears of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
The South China Morning Post reported that all 600,000 residents were told to shelter in place unless they had a note from their employer saying they must report for duty.
The lockdown means all businesses aside from grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and gas stations, must close. Over the weekend, the Henan province reported one confirmed case in Luohe city. Local authorities said the infected person had been in contact with two Jai-based doctors who tested positive for the virus though they showed no symptoms.
China has worked hard to shed its image as the place where the virus originated and spread.
But its efforts to rebrand haven’t shaken out as Beijing had planned.
Even as Xi took his initial victory lap around Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province, nurses were telling the Financial Times that the country’s numbers were off.
They warned of “hidden infections” being underreported and up until this week, China had been excluding people without symptoms from its official coronavirus count. The move raised doubt about the number of infections, as well as the lengths Beijing was willing to go to restart its economy and portray itself as the country that conquered COVID-19.
“The medics I know are all telling me that the hospital and the (National) Health Commission are using all their means to control the new case count,” one nurse told the paper on condition of anonymity. “It is extremely worrying to continue to publicize ‘zero new cases.’ It is very risky and it will turn the sacrifices made in Wuhan and the whole of Hubei to nothing.”
Public concerns about a second wave of infections have grown in recent days, even though China started to relax restrictions in some places.
China represents a core challenge for scientists and medical professionals around the world trying to get a grasp on COVID-19. Some have learned that what China says doesn’t always translate into reality and that sometimes those untruths can have deadly consequences.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has repeatedly accused China of lying about its number of coronavirus cases and deaths.
“China’s falsehoods and concealment of data about coronavirus are dangerous to America and the whole world,” Bolton tweeted Thursday.
In another tweet he claimed, “Untold numbers of people have died needlessly because of the authoritarian Beijing regime’s conduct. The global economy has suffered a catastrophic setback that might have been substantially mitigated had China just been honest.”
His comments echoed that of Deborah Birx, the State Department immunologist advising the White House on its COVID-19 response. She said on Tuesday that China’s numbers influenced assumptions in other countries about the nature of the contagion.
“The medical community made — interpreted the Chinese data as: This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain.”
China has strongly pushed back on accusations it purposely misled the world and on Thursday accused the United States of using China as a scapegoat for its own missteps.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had been “open and transparent” with its numbers and said a report by Bloomberg that cited U.S. intelligence officials claiming China had lied about its numbers was itself a lie.
“Some U.S. officials just want to shift the blame,” Hua said during a press conference in Beijing. “Actually, we don’t want to fall into an argument with them, but faced with such repeated moral slander by them, I feel compelled to take some time and clarify the truth again.”
As of midday Thursday, there were at least 962,977 positive cases of COVID-19 and at least 49,180 deaths worldwide, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.