(CNSNews.com) – The head of the World Health Organization appealed Saturday for people not to “politicize” the outbreak of the China-originated coronavirus, defending his praise for the way the Chinese authorities are dealing with the crisis even as criticism in the U.S. and elsewhere mounts.
Meanwhile Taiwan recorded its first death from the virus dubbed COVID-19, amid continuing difficulties resulting from Beijing refusal to allow the island democracy to be treated as a sovereign country.
As of early Monday, the total number of confirmed cases around the world stands at 71,331 – 98 percent of them in China and the rest scattered across 26 other countries, including 15 cases in the United States.
A total of 1,775 people have died from COVID-19, again mostly in mainland China, but including one fatality each in the Philippines, Hong Kong, France, Japan, and now Taiwan.
The figures above are compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Its cites as its data sources the WHO, CDC, European CDC, China’s National Health Commission, and the Chinese health portal DXY.
Suspicions about the reliability of the figures provided by Chinese authorities have been swirling on social media and elsewhere for weeks.
The WHO has not publicly called the figures into question, but in recent days has made a small change to the situation update reports which it has been issuing daily since January 21.
In WHO’s daily updates numbered 1 to 23, the number of new cases and deaths in China were simply given. Since update 24 (dated February 13), however, a small typographical dagger symbol now appears next to the Chinese figures, with a footnote saying, “As reported by China.”
On Thursday Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, raised concerns about Beijing’s transparency, saying China’s figures were “a great unknown.”
Kudlow said that although the virus was being contained in the U.S. “we don’t know if it’s contained in China. We thought they were tailing off in their health count; it turns out that might not be the case.”
Asked about Kudlow’s remarks, the executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, Michael Ryan, told reporters in Geneva they did not accord with the agency’s experience.
“From our perspective we have a government that’s cooperating with us, that’s inviting in international experts, that has shared sequences with the world, that continues to engage with the outside community, that has published again and again and again in credible international medical journals, that continues to make international presentations. So I’m finding it hard to square that with Mr. Kudlow’s comments.”
Ryan added that “everyone is entitled to their opinion,” and said that if there was any clear indication of a lack of transparency, “we would be very glad to have that discussion.”
US experts welcome?
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian who has given China high marks for its handling of the outbreak, acknowledged his stance has prompted criticism, but did not back down.
“Much has been written and said about my praise for China,” he said. “I have given credit where it’s due, and I will continue to do that, as I would and I did for any country that fights an outbreak aggressively at its source to protect its own people and the people of the world, even at great cost to itself.”
“It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to politicize. It’s harder to tackle a problem together, and find solutions together,” Tedros said.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang rejected Kudlow’s criticism, saying China has been working with international community, including the U.S., “to tackle the epidemic in an open, transparent and highly responsible manner.”
He also said China would welcome the participation of U.S. experts in a WHO-led mission to China.
As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had no information on whether its experts would be included in a 12-member team which the WHO plans to send into three Chinese provinces.
“The composition of the team in terms of who the actual members are on this first team hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t speak to that,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Respiratory Diseases, told a briefing.
“But we continue to hope that CDC staff will be included in that mission,” she said. “Obviously, I believe that we have great expertise here at CDC and I hope we can use it to support our Chinese colleagues.”
Earlier, a WHO spokesperson responded to queries about the length of time taken for missions to China to get underway by saying that WHO’s cooperation with China has been ongoing since the authorities notified WHO’s office in China about the outbreak on December 31.
“A small mission was sent to Wuhan mid-January and the director-general visited in January also, along with technical experts,” Carla Drysdale said.
An advance team then went to China in early February, “part of a much larger collaboration to share data and science to we can accelerate action quickly and effectively.”