Lies Debunked: reality check of allegations against China on COVID-19

Jun 10, 2020, 2:00 PM | Article By: Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In the past few months, politicians from certain countries, along with some irresponsible media outlets, have been fabricating preposterous allegations and lies, to shift the blame to China for their own inadequate response to COVID-19, causing much confusion to the public and damaging China’s image. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry published reality check to those allegations, to have facts speak for themselves. The following are contents excerpted from the published document, to debunk six of the most widespread lies.

  1. Allegation: COVID-19 is "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus", and Wuhan is the origin of the virus.

Reality Check: WHO has made it clear that the naming of a disease should not be associated with a particular country or place. Meanwhile, being the first to report the virus does not mean that Wuhan is its origin.

◆ On 11 February 2020, WHO, on the basis of the 2015 Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases as well as international public health practices, officially named the pneumonia caused by novel coronavirus the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

◆ Historically, the place that first reported a virus were often not its origin. For example, HIV infection was first reported by the US, yet it might also be possible that the virus did not originally come from the US. And more and more evidence proves that the Spanish Flu did not originate from Spain.

◆ Source tracing is a scientific matter. At the moment, scientists around the world are searching for the source of the virus, and have presented many academic views on it.

◆ Viruses are the common enemy of mankind, which may appear at any time and in any place. Epidemics are natural in origin, not man-made. The origin of a virus or epidemic is a victim, not a culprit. It is unfair and unacceptable to blame it or hold it accountable.

  1. Allegation: The virus was constructed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). COVID-19 was caused by an accidental leak from the its laboratory.

Reality Check: All available evidence shows that the virus is natural in origin, not man-made. The WIV does not have the capability to design or synthesize a new coronavirus, and there is no evidence of pathogen leaks or staff infections in the Institute.

◆ On 19 February, The Lancet published a joint statement by 27 leading medical experts from eight countries, indicating that scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of SARS-CoV-2, and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.

◆ On 17 March, five prominent scholars from the US, the UK and Australia pointed out on Nature Medicine that evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.

◆ On 30 April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the US issued a statement on its official website making clear that the Intelligence Community concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.

◆ Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan said on 1 May that numerous scientists have looked at the genome sequence of this virus and we are assured that this virus is natural in origin.

◆ The Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory (Wuhan P4 Laboratory) in the WIV is a government cooperation program between China and France, with its design, construction and management all following international standards, and operations protected by special facilities and strict protocols.

◆ Operations of the Laboratory have all along been safe and stable. There had been no SARS-CoV-2 in the lab until 30 December 2019 when the first COVID-19 patient specimens were delivered there for testing three days after the local government received first reports of the virus. No one in the WIV has so far been infected by COVID-19.

◆ Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with National Geographic published on 4 May that the best evidence shows the virus was not made in a lab in China. If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now, the virus could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated. This virus evolved in nature and then jumped species.

  1. Allegation: The Chinese contracted the novel coronavirus while eating bats. China is reopening wildlife markets. It should immediately close all "wet markets".

Reality Check: Bats are never part of the Chinese diet. There are no so-called "wildlife wet markets" in China. China has passed legislation banning all illegal hunting and trade of wild animals.

◆ The Internet video clip in which a Chinese female tour guide drinks bat soup was part of a travel promotion show filmed by her team on a small Pacific island in 2016 and was posted online that year. Bat soup was a local specialty.

◆ Bats are never part of the Chinese dishes. Wuhan Huanan seafood market, where cluster cases were identified in the early days of the epidemic, does not sell bats.

◆ Selling wild animals is illegal in China. Such an act will be immediately stopped once discovered, and will be punished in accordance with law.

◆ There are no so-called "wildlife wet markets" in China. And in fact, China does not even have the concept of "wet markets". What exist in China are farmers' markets and live poultry and seafood markets. They sell fresh fish, meat, vegetables, seafood and other farm produce. A few of them sell live poultry. Basically, they are no different from the fish markets or fruit and vegetables markets in Western countries. Such markets exist not only in China, but also in many other countries. They are an important part of local life. No international law restricts the opening or operation of such markets. What were reopened in Wuhan are these traditional farmers' markets.

In the past few months, politicians from certain countries, along with some irresponsible media outlets, have been fabricating preposterous allegations and lies, to shift the blame to China for their own inadequate response to COVID-19, causing much confusion to the public and damaging China’s image. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry published reality check to those allegations, to have facts speak for themselves. The following are contents excerpted from the published document, following previously published fact check to three other allegations.

  1. Allegation: China could have contained the virus within Wuhan. China's initial cover-up and delayed release of information resulted in the spread of the virus.

Reality Check: What has happened is an unexpected attack by an unknown virus against human beings. It takes time to study and understand it. China has provided timely information to the world in an open, transparent and responsible manner, and took the most stringent measures within the shortest possible time. Statistics show that very few cases were actually exported from China.

◆ On 27 December 2019, Dr. Zhang Jixian, director of the respiratory and critical care medicine department of Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, reported three cases of pneumonia of unknown cause immediately after receiving the patients. This was the first reporting of suspected cases of a new disease by local authorities of China. On the same day, the Wuhan CDC conducted epidemiological investigation and testing on the patients concerned.

◆ On 30 December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued two emergency notices on the reporting and treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause.

◆ On 31 December 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a situation report on pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan. On the same day, China informed the WHO China Country Office of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan.

◆ On 3 January 2020, China began sending regular, timely updates about the novel coronavirus to WHO, other countries including the United States, and China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions.

◆ It takes a rigorous scientific process to determine whether a new virus can be transmitted from person to person. On 9 January, a Chinese expert group had already confirmed on the media that the pathogen was preliminarily determined as a novel coronavirus. On 20 January, the high-level expert group of the National Health Commission informed the media that the novel coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person. On that day, the US reported no confirmed case.

◆ On 23 January, China sent a powerful warning to the world by putting Wuhan, a city of 12 million people, under lockdown, meaning that there were no outbound commercial flights or train services from 24 January through 8 April. It was impossible for Wuhan residents to travel overseas during this period of time. The Chinese government took the most comprehensive, rigorous and thorough measures in a timely fashion, and effectively broke the chain of transmission.

◆ When Wuhan was shut down on 23 January, only one case was publicly confirmed in the US. When the US closed its borders on 2 February to all Chinese citizens and foreigners who had been to China within the previous 14 days, there were only eight confirmed cases in the US according to its official data. The New York Times cited US research that most New York coronavirus cases did not come from Asia.

◆ Data from Canada's major provinces show that the virus was brought into the country by US visitors. The French research institute Institut Pasteur found that the virus strain circulating locally in France is of unknown origin. None of the imported cases in Russia was from China. The Australian Department of Health noted that only a very small portion of imported cases came from Northeast Asia. In Singapore, cases imported from China were less than one-tenth of those from other countries. The Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases believed that the strain confirmed in Japan since early March was not from China.

  1. Allegation: China controls and bribes WHO. China has blocked Taiwan's bid to join WHO, putting the health of the people in Taiwan at risk.

Reality Check: China firmly supports multilateralism. China has been in good communication and cooperation with WHO, but has never attempted to manipulate the organization. Taiwan, being part of China, has no right to join WHO, whose membership requires sovereign statehood. The technical cooperation channel between China's Taiwan and WHO is unimpeded.

◆ WHO is has 194 member states. Eleven members on its 21-strong headquarters leadership team are from the US, the EU, Canada and Australia, and only one is from China. They are all trained or practicing doctors, epidemiologists, rescue workers and public health experts.

◆ In 2018 and 2019, China was the third biggest donor to WHO's assessed contributions, after the US and Japan. According to WHO, assessed contributions only account for less than a quarter of its total funding, with the rest being voluntary contributions.

◆ Upon its accession to the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), China stated that the IHR applies to the entire territory of the People's Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Macao Special Administrative Region and the Taiwan Province.

◆ As agreed upon by the Chinese government and WHO, a WHO IHR Contact Point has been set up in China's Taiwan and the region has an account to access the WHO Event Information Site for the timely updates on global public health emergencies released by WHO. There is no barrier to technical cooperation between China's Taiwan and WHO.

◆ Since the start of COVID-19, China's National Health Commission has provided timely information to the Taiwan region. As of 6 May, China's mainland had updated Taiwan on the situation 148 times. In mid-January, the mainland arranged a field visit to Wuhan for experts from Taiwan to help them learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of confirmed cases and COVID-19 response measures.

  1. Allegation: China is responsible for the global spread of COVID-19. There must be investigations and lawsuits against China to hold it accountable and make it pay for COVID-19.

Reality Check: There is zero legal basis for holding China accountable and making it pay for COVID-19. Essentially, some foreign politicians are trying to shift the blame out of domestic political agenda.

◆ COVID-19 is a natural, not man-made, disaster. China, like other countries, is a victim, not a culprit.

◆ A pandemic is a global public health emergency. There is no such a thing as "state responsibility" of the first country to report cases. HIV/AIDS was first detected in the US in the 1980s and has since spread to the whole world, but the international community has never demanded that the US take responsibility or pay reparations.

◆ According to international law, state responsibility occurs when acts of the responsible state constitute a breach of international law and there is a causal link between such acts and losses suffered by the injured state. China's COVID-19 response does not breach any international law, nor does it have any causal relationship with any losses that other countries may suffer due to the massive outbreak of the virus.

◆ Although the International Health Regulations only requires the state party to notify WHO of a public health event, China still provided the countries including the US (albeit no China-US bilateral treaty or agreement on public health and emergency events exists) with timely and continuous updates on the virus. In the face of COVID-19, China has all along acted with openness, transparency and a sense of responsibility. It has promptly released information and notified WHO of the virus, taken the most comprehensive, rigorous and thorough measures, and faithfully fulfilled its duties and obligations under the IHR.

The fact check responded to some of the most prevalent allegations against China in the past. Unfortunately, new allegations and lies are very likely to continue emerging. To face the “infodemic”, more rational thinking is needed, so as to avoid its harm and to eventually defeat COVID-19.