Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis addresses the conspiracies surrounding China's response to the spread of Covid-19
Plenty of conspiracies have emerged online about the nature of the Covid-19 epidemic...from the claim that the virus was deliberately released by a state or non-state actor, to the idea that it all started due to a voracious Chinese appetite for bat-soup. But these conspiracies are fringe. That have had almost zero impact on public discourse and no uptake in the mainstream media.
However, there is one conspiracy theory that has gained wider currency in public perceptions and is occasionally presented in the media as a legitimate idea. Namely, the theory that China "covered up" the beginnings of the outbreak in December. A similar accusation is now being made toward Iran.
These accusations are not rooted in reality. They are a result of vestigial memories of China's initial response to SARS in 2003, alongside a general xenophobic "othering" of China as a whole.
The facts are these:
- We have ample data (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) showing that the median time for countries to detect an outbreak is 20 days. The median time to confirmation is 36 days. So it generally takes more than a month to detect an outbreak and declare it.
- We know from studies on the Covid19 virus itself that the spillover from the animal reservoir into humans occurred at the end of November or start of December 2019. China officially declared the outbreak at the start of January; and even mapped the genome of the virus (and shared the data) in record time. So we can see that there has been no excessive "lag-time" in China. It identified and declared it's epidemic within the lag-time which would be expected in any country.
- The consensus (from the World Health Organisation to Public Health England to the key individuals representing British preparedness plans) is that China has been appropriately timely and open about its management of the initial stages of the outbreak.
There has been no cover-up.
That is not to say that the Chinese state allows free-speech (it doesn't) or that there are no criticisms to be made of China's response (the enforcement of mass use of facemasks; an intervention with little evidence for effectiveness)...
But there has been no cover-up.
On the contrary; Chinese scientists, public health reps, epidemiologists, health workers and wider society as a whole have done an incredible job. They have appropriately mitigated their outbreak and have bought time for the rest of us. Time that we are using for preparedness.
Any deficiencies or over/under-reactions in China's response are not specific to Chinese culture or even politics. They are paradoxes and challenges that would arise in any similar economy, including ours.