Caixin
Jan 30, 2020 09:23 PM
POLITICS & LAW

China Disease Control Official Says Wuhan May Have ‘Hesitated’ on Virus Response

The epidemiologist further praised eight Wuhan citizens who were reprimanded by local police for “fabricating, disseminating and spreading rumors” after posting online about a “SARS-like” coronavirus in late December. Photo: Tuchong
The epidemiologist further praised eight Wuhan citizens who were reprimanded by local police for “fabricating, disseminating and spreading rumors” after posting online about a “SARS-like” coronavirus in late December. Photo: Tuchong
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The top epidemiologist at China’s center for disease control has said the Wuhan government may have hesitated at the crucial early stage of the coronavirus outbreak, which has spread across the nation and to over a dozen countries.

This is the latest move in a blame game over Wuhan’s slow response to the first signs of the outbreak, such as a delay (link in Chinese) in publicizing signs that the virus could spread from person to person.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Wednesday in an interview with the state-run Global Times that the local authorities’ delayed response was “mainly because of [their] lack of scientific recognition” of the new type of coronavirus.

However, Zeng said that he could not rule out other factors, such as “some hesitation in the decision-making process,” and “whether the government had confidence in itself.”

While public health workers make decisions based on scientific evidence, he said, governments also need to take into account economic and political factors, which could slow their decision-making, such as social stability and the Lunar New Year holiday which fell at the end of January.

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In an interview with national broadcaster CCTV on Monday, Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang acknowledged that the city failed to disclose information on the coronavirus outbreak in a timely way and offered his resignation.

However, he also partially blamed regulations which say making such a decision is a matter for higher health authorities. “Because it is an infectious disease, and we have the infectious disease prevention law to regulate information disclosure,” he said, “as a local government, after we have the information, we can only reveal it after approval.” Zhou said that Wuhan was only able to act after the State Council, China’s cabinet, held an emergency meeting on the virus on Jan. 20.

The CDC’s Zeng also said in the Wednesday interview that the decision to lock down public transportation into, out of and within Wuhan was “complete, resolute and comprehensive.”

The epidemiologist further praised eight Wuhan citizens who were reprimanded by local police for “fabricating, disseminating and spreading rumors” after posting online about a “SARS-like” coronavirus in late December.

“The eight people are respectable. In retrospect, we think highly of them,” Zeng said, “They were wise before the event.”

China’s Supreme People's Court also believed that the eight Wuhan citizens shouldn't be punished as what they said was not entirely false.

“It might have been a fortunate thing if the public had believed the ‘rumors’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitization measures, and avoid the wild animal market," an article published on the top court's social media account said on Tuesday.

Contact reporter Lu Zhenhua (zhenhualu@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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