Misinform, mislead and manipulate! Seeds of China’s Covid cover-up sown by SARS epidemic

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Scientists, journalists and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) slammed the actions of the country’s communist regime to hide the origins of the respiratory disease – which killed hundreds of people between 2002 and 2003. Initially, China played down the outbreak and even imposed a media blackout of the virus after the first case was reported in Guangdong, China, in November 2002.

But as it quickly spread across China and into neighbouring countries, then president Hu Jintao finally admitted there had been an outbreak in February 2003.

China was later accused of underreporting death and infection rates as well as delaying reporting information to the WHO.

A team from the organisation was also not allowed to visit Guangdong province for several weeks – leading to intense international criticism.

This prompted a change in government policy in early April that year – leading to the virus being contained.

Sadly it appears that little was learned from this epidemic – and China has been accused of using exactly the same tactics when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in late 2019.

By this point, current Chinese President Xi Jinping had become increasingly authoritarian and resistant to international pressure.

And with the country’s economic power vastly greater than in 2002 – China seems to believe it is impervious to criticism from organisations like the WHO.

This has led to an even greater cover-up than with SARS, observers have claimed.

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Milton Leitenberg, a senior researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, argued that SARS taught China it could “mislead, misinform and manipulate” health authorities with few consequences.

He told the Mail on Sunday that this lesson was applied in the pandemic “in an aggressive and bravura style” with “a massive campaign of denial, cover-up, diversions, delay and disinformation”.

China has blamed the latest coronavirus on an animal market in Wuhan.

But the WHO is looking into whether it originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city – something the regime denies.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations, said: “We thought SARS would be a watershed for handling disease and they would learn the lessons of transparency.

“But the pattern was no different, with cover-up, denials and inaction after the outbreak in Wuhan.”

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Dictatorships breed dishonesty because everyone is afraid of what a mistake could cost.

“Today in China it is no different – but this time we’re all paying the price.”

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