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Top White House official suggests China is not being 'honest' and has 'motives' in the coronavirus fight, as Beijing faces suspicion over how it records infections

Business Insider Malaysia logo Business Insider Malaysia 5 days ago Sinéad Baker, Business Insider US
a group of people wearing costumes: Police officers in protective gear waiting to evacuate residents from a public-housing building following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Hong Kong earlier this week. © Provided by Business Insider Malaysia Police officers in protective gear waiting to evacuate residents from a public-housing building following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Hong Kong earlier this week.
  • President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser says China isn’t being open with the US about the coronavirus, suggesting China is not being “honest with us.”
  • Larry Kudlow told reporters on Thursday the US was “a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese” and “I don’t know what their motives are,” according to The Guardian.
  • His comments come after Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, on Thursday changed the way it counted infection cases – leading to a huge 15,000-person spike in recorded cases overnight.
  • On Friday, China also removed more than 100 deaths, citing duplicated figures – adding to suspicion over the way it’s recording infections. Multiple researchers have long suggested a higher infection count.
  • At the same time, the World Health Organization has praised China’s efforts and relative transparency. Beijing covered up many cases during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A top White House official has suggested China is not being “honest with us” and has “motives” in how it shares information about the deadly coronavirus, as Beijing continues to face suspicion on the way it counts infection cases.

“We are a little disappointed that we haven’t been invited in and we’re a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese,” Larry Kudlow told reporters Thursday, according to The Guardian.

Kudlow as director of the US National Economic Council is one of President Donald Trump’s top negotiators in trade talks with China.

He said Chinese President Xi Jinping previously told Trump that he would accept help from the US but that so far “they won’t let us.”

“I don’t know what their motives are. I do know that apparently more and more people are suffering over there,” Kudlow said, according to The Guardian. “Is the Politburo really being honest with us?” 

The virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has now killed at least 1,380 people and infected more than 63,000 people in China alone, according to government figures.

Suspicion has swirled over the way China has responded to the virus and how it compiles its figures, recently heightened by the way some authorities have changed their reporting methods.

Such change caused the number of new cases to jump by 15,000 on Thursday, making it the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began.

Kudlow also mentioned the change Thursday, saying, according to Reuters, that the numbers were “jumping around” and that “there was some surprise.”

a person sitting on a bed: An exhibition center converted into a hospital in Wuhan on February 5. © STR/AFP/Getty Images An exhibition center converted into a hospital in Wuhan on February 5.

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the agency had offered to help China with the virus as early as January 6 but had not heard back.

“There’s a lot of information we don’t know – that’s why I offered to provide assistance, direct assistance, and send our CDC folks over there back on January 6 to really help them gather that information and also to help us see the information first hand that we need to help make the right public health recommendations for our nation,” Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN on Wednesday.

“That letter has not been responded to yet by the official Chinese government,” he said.

“We do believe that we’re the best in the world in this space and we’re ready to help and assist them, but they’re an independent nation that has to make that decision that they’re going to invite us in.”

The coronavirus, which has spread to at least 25 other countries, has become an international crisis.

Suspicion hangs over China’s figures, but the WHO has praised the country’s response

The figures being reported by China had already been treated with suspicion for weeks after multiple researchers suggested the number of infected should be much higher.

These doubts were heightened Thursday after China’s Hubei province – which is home to Wuhan – changed its method of diagnosis to include people who were found to have signs of pneumonia during CT scans.

This caused 15,000 new cases to be recorded within 24 hours – becoming the largest single-day jump in cases since the outbreak began.

a group of baseball players that are standing in the dark: A man disinfecting a woman arriving at a hotel accommodating isolated people in Wuhan on February 3. © Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images A man disinfecting a woman arriving at a hotel accommodating isolated people in Wuhan on February 3.

And on Friday, China’s National Health Commission said it had removed 108 people from the death count “because of duplicated Hubei province statistics,” according to a translation by CNBC.

Another unnamed Chinese province near Russia also cut its number of confirmed cases earlier this week, deciding that people who tested positive for the coronavirus but did not show symptoms did not count, according to The New York Times.

These revisions come as part of China’s medical systems become overwhelmed and some areas report a shortage of virus-testing kits.

Multiple studies have also suggested the number of infected should be much higher. They include:

  • Research suggesting that a host of symptoms had been overlooked, and that there are actually eight times more cases than reported.
  • A scientific model suggesting the number of infections was actually ten times higher than what was recorded near the end of January, around one month into the outbreak.
  • Other research suggesting China does not have the capacity to properly test enough people in Wuhan for the virus, and that there are actually 19 times more people infected than what is recorded.

Chinese authorities also targeted medical professionals and journalists who warned about the virus in its early days.

Xi Jinping wearing a suit and tie: Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris on March 26. © Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris on March 26.

Kerry Brown, a China expert at King’s College, London, told The New York Times after Hubei province shared its diagnosis method that “It’s pretty clear that there is an issue with trust about whatever the Chinese government comes out with at the moment.”

“That may be terribly unfair,” he said. But “to redefine things – even legitimately – at a moment like this is always going to be a presentational challenge, because people are going to be very sensitive, and they’re going to suspect there’s another agenda.”

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised China’s relative transparency and efforts to fight the coronavirus spread. It said last month that China had agreed to allow global health experts into the country, and the organization has send also sent a delegation to the country.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said in January: “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus.”

a store inside of a building: The World Health Organization assembly in Geneva in May 2008. © FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images The World Health Organization assembly in Geneva in May 2008.

China has also shared the draft genome of the coronavirus, allowing it to be studied with researchers around the world.

Its response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has been deemed far more open compared to its response to the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. China tried to cover up and deny that outbreak, which went on to kill more than 770 people around the world.

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