Relatives of Wuhan Covid victims say they are silenced by Beijing

Relatives of Wuhan Covid victims say they are silenced by Beijing

January 27, 2021

Relatives of Wuhan Covid victims say they are being silenced by Beijing as WHO prepares to begin its investigation into the cause of the outbreak

  • Relatives of Wuhan’s coronavirus victims said Chinese authorities deleted their social media group on WeChat 10 days ago
  • Zhang Hai said authorities are ‘afraid’ the families will get in touch with WHO experts who are in Wuhan for an investigation into the pandemic’s origins
  • Families blame officials for mishandling the outbreak in Wuhan a year ago

Relatives of Wuhan’s coronavirus victims today said Chinese authorities have deleted their social media group and are pressuring them to keep quiet while a World Health Organization team is in the city to investigate the pandemic’s origins.

Scores of relatives have banded together online in a shared quest for accountability from Wuhan officials who they blame for mishandling the outbreak that tore through the city one year ago.

The effort has thus far been thwarted by official obstruction, monitoring of social media groups and intimidation, say next-of-kin.

But pressure has escalated in recent days, apparently to muzzle any criticism and avoid embarrassment during the highly sensitive WHO investigation.

A group on social media platform WeChat used by 80 to 100 family members over the past year was suddenly deleted without explanation about 10 days ago, said Zhang Hai, whose father died early in the pandemic of suspected Covid-19 (pictured)

A group on social media platform WeChat used by 80 to 100 family members over the past year was suddenly deleted without explanation about 10 days ago, said Zhang Hai, a group member and a vocal critic of the outbreak’s handling.

‘This shows that (Chinese authorities) are very nervous. They are afraid that these families will get in touch with the WHO experts,’ said Zhang, 51, whose father died early in the pandemic of suspected Covid-19.

The WHO experts arrived in Wuhan on January 14 and are due to emerge from a 14-day quarantine on Thursday.

A team of WHO experts arrived in Wuhan on January 14 and were greeted by Chinese health officials wearing hazmat suits at the city’s airport 

While China enjoys its Covid recovery and trumpets its success, a growing body of evidence suggests it covered up the early spread of the disease – allowing it to balloon into a pandemic while robbing other nations of the ability to properly respond

‘When the WHO arrived in Wuhan, (authorities) forcibly demolished (the group). As a result we have lost contact with many members,’ Zhang added.

Other next-of-kin confirmed the group’s deletion. WeChat is operated by Chinese digital giant Tencent.

Popular platforms routinely censor content deemed objectionable by the government. 

Relatives accuse the Wuhan and Hubei provincial governments of allowing Covid-19 to get out of control by trying to conceal the outbreak when it first emerged in the city in December 2019, then failing to alert the public and bungling the response.

According to official Chinese figures, it killed nearly 3,900 in Wuhan, accounting for the vast majority of the 4,636 dead China has reported.

Relatives accuse the Wuhan and Hubei provincial governments of allowing Covid-19 to get out of control by trying to conceal the outbreak when it first emerged in the city in December 2019, then failing to alert the public and bungling the response. Pictured: A health worker disinfects an area in Wuhan on January 24

Chinese scientists and officials have been eager to find ‘evidence’ the virus started overseas and have blamed a total of nine countries for being the true source – despite experts rubbishing those theories 

Many next-of-kin distrust those numbers, saying the scarcity of testing in the outbreak’s chaotic early days meant many are likely to have died without being confirmed as having the disease. 

While China has broadly controlled the pandemic on its soil, it has frustrated independent attempts to trace its origins.

Instead, it has sought to deflect blame for the horrific worldwide human and economic toll by suggesting, without proof, that it emerged elsewhere.

A team of WHO virus experts were finally allowed into Wuhan a fortnight ago. Their highly watched probe into the virus origins is due to start on Thursday, under tight security, after a 14-day quarantine.

As the rest of the world continues to grapple with lockdowns and soaring infections, young people in the city, once the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, are enjoying their hard-earned freedom a year on from the outbreak

Another family member, a retiree who says her adult daughter died of the virus last January, said she was summoned last week by authorities and warned not to ‘speak to media or be used by others’.

Authorities came to her door on Tuesday ‘and sang the same old tune and gave me 5,000 yuan ($775) in a ‘condolence payment”, she added, requesting anonymity. 

The Communist Party government smothers anything that reflects its governance in a poor light, and the early days of the outbreak remain among the most sensitive topics in China today.

Several Wuhan relatives have tried to file lawsuits seeking compensation and punishment of officials, but say courts have refused to accept them.

HOW DOES CHINA AND THE US’S OFFICIAL TIMELINE COMPARE TO LATER SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE? 

THE OFFICIAL TIMELINE OF CORONAVIRUS SPREADING FROM CHINA 

December 31 2019: Total of 27 suspected cases

The WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. Around 27 suspected cases were reported in the month of December.

January 9 2020: Total of 59 confirmed cases, one death

A preliminary investigation identified the respiratory disease as a new type of coronavirus, Chinese state media reported.

Officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the outbreak’s first death on January 9, a 61-year-old man. 

January 13 2020: Woman in Thailand becomes first confirmed case outside China  

January 19 2020: U.S. confirms first case in Washington state

A man in his 30s developed symptoms of the virus after returning from a trip to Wuhan.  

January 24 2020: Second US case of  COVID-19 confirmed in California

California became the second U.S. state to report a case of coronavirus in a traveler who returned to Illinois. 

January 26 2020: First case confirmed in California 

January 30 2020: CDC reports first case of person-to-person spread in the US. 

Officials confirmed a case of coronavirus in a person who had not traveled to Wuhan but shared a house with someone who had been diagnosed with the virus. 

February 4 2020: First coronavirus case in Wisconsin confirmed   

February 28 2020: Oregon confirms its first case of coronavirus 

March 2 2020: First case of coronavirus confirmed in Massachusetts 

March 1 2020: New York City reports the first case in the city and state

A woman returning to New York from Iran is identified to be the state’s first case of coronavirus.

March 3 2020: Wisconsin and Rhode Island confirm their first cases

Three people in Wisconsin become the states first coronavirus cases after they traveled to Europe. 

A Rhode Island traveler who returned from Italy in mid-February is confirmed to have coronavirus.  

March 8 2020: Connecticut reports its first presumptive case of coronavirus 

March 24 2020: First two cases of coronavirus in Michigan confirmed   

WHAT WE KNOW NOW ABOUT THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS FROM CHINA 

November 17 2019: First probable case identified in China

Unpublished government documents obtained by the South China Morning Post in March showed 266 people had contracted coronavirus by the end of 2019. 

The earliest of them was a 55-year-old woman, identified on November 17 – weeks before China first began to sound the alarm.  

November 17 2019 – February 1 2020: More than one million people flew from China to the U.S. before travel was shut down   

December 13-17 2019: Blood donors from California, Oregon and Washington had antibodies to coronavirus

December 30 2019 – January 17 2020: Coronavirus antibodies detected in blood donated in Michigan, Massachusetts, Wisconsin or Iowa and Rhode Island or Connecticut

January 2020: Genome sequencing of viral strains in New York City suggests that coronavirus was already in New York by January, and came mostly from Europe 

March 1: New York City reports its first case of coronavirus – but likely already had 11,000 

Northeastern University modeling suggested that there were probably more than 10,000 infections in the city already. 

An analysis by the New York Times suggested that there were likely 28,000 additional cases in five major cities, which had collectively reported just 23 infections.  

November 30 2020: ‘Wuhan Files’ obtained by CNN reveal China hid thousands of cases for weeks 

The Chinese government was reporting about half as many cases a day as were on its confidential list.

Experts described the delayed and underreported case counts intentional mistakes. 

However, even greater transparency would not likely have stopped coronavirus from becoming a global pandemic. 

December 1 2020: The one year anniversary of the first symptoms reported in Wuhan 

More than 63.6 million people, including 13.6 Americans, have been infected with coronavirus worldwide.

Nearly 270,00 Americans are among the global death toll of 1,47,851.  

The Wuhan government has repeatedly failed to reply to AFP queries regarding the families and their demands.

Zhang called on the WHO experts to ‘bravely’ meet with next-of-kin, saying the investigators are likely to be misled or obstructed by Chinese authorities.

He said the families’ hard-earned knowledge of how the virus played out could aid the investigation, though he acknowledges such a meeting is highly unlikely.

The virus is believed to have emerged from bats and to have initially spread from a wet market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold as food. But little else is known.

Another theory, amplified by former US President Donald Trump, is that it leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan where researchers were studying coronaviruses. 

A militia member uses a digital thermometer to take a driver’s temperature at a checkpoint at a highway toll gate in Wuhan on January 23

Pictured: Residents wearing masks past by a screen showing a trailer for the film ‘Days and Nights in Wuhan’ outside a mall in the city on January 22. After going into a 76-day lockdown a year ago on Saturday, Wuhan is virtually back to normal

Glow-in-the-dark rabbit ears, pulsating beats, and a flexible attitude to masks are shown in pictures from clubs in Wuhan, which is back with a vengeance after a lockdown brought life to a standstill in the city of 11 million one year ago on Saturday. Pictured: In this picture taken on January 21, 2021, people visit a nightclub in Wuhan. Most are maskless

China initially rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus, but bowed to global pressure in May for a probe into the origins.  

The arrival of the WHO mission has revived controversy over whether China allowed the virus to spread globally by reacting too slowly in the early days.

From the beginning, WHO officials have been trying to get more cooperation from China, with limited success.   

As of Wednesday, China has reported a total of 89,272 confirmed infections. Its death toll rose by one to 4,636 following an additional fatality on Monday.

And you thought nose swabs were bad! China begins using anal swabs to test for Covid in Beijing 

Beijing is using anal swabs to test its residents for coronavirus, a method that experts say is more accurate and raises the chances of detecting the virus.

To collect test samples, the swab needs to be inserted about two to three centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) into the rectum and rotated several times.

After completing the motion twice, the swab is removed before being securely placed inside a sample container. The whole procedure is said to take about 10 seconds.

To collect the nucleic acid samples, the swab needs to be inserted about two to three centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) and rotated several times. A video widely circulated online shows a doctor holding a visual demonstration of the procedure

The Chinese capital began using the derriere detecting method more frequently during a mass testing drive after a nine-year-old boy tested positive for the virus last week.

Since January 17, more than three million residents in three Beijing districts have received coronavirus testing in a bid to stem the contagion, authorities said. 

More than 1,000 staff and students at the infected young patient’s school also underwent a variety of nucleic acid tests including the anal swabs, reported state media.

Anal swabs have been used in China to test coronavirus since last year, but the method is mainly used in key groups at quarantine centres because of its inconvenience, according to a Chinese disease control expert.

Speaking to state broadcaster CCTV on Saturday, Li Tongzeng from Beijing You’an Hospital said that traces of the coronavirus linger longer in the anus or excrement than those samples taken from throat and nasal swabs. 

‘We found that some asymptomatic patients tend to recover quickly. It’s possible that there will be no trace of the virus in their throat after three to five days,’ Li noted.

‘But the virus lasts longer from the samples taken from the patient’s digestive tract and excrement, compared to the ones taken from the respiratory tract.

‘If we conduct anal swabs for nucleic acid testing, it would increase the detection rates of patients and lower the chance of a missed diagnosis,’ the expert claimed.

Anal swabs have been used in China to test coronavirus since last year, but the method is mainly used in key groups at quarantine centres because of its inconvenience, expert says

Ms Gao, a resident who was under quarantine in Tangshan city near Beijing, told reporters about her experience receiving the anal swab at a centralised isolation centre.

A female health worker performed the procedure on her, the woman told The Beijing News. The whole test took about 10 seconds.

‘[She] inserted the cotton stick inside the rectum,’ Ms Gao said. ‘Rotated it a few times and took it out. She did it twice in total.’

As the testing method sparked a discussion online, a video widely circulated on Chinese social media shows a doctor holding a visual demonstration of the procedure. 

According to various reports, the anal swab needs to be inserted about two to three centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) into one’s rectum and rotated for several times. 

After completing the motion twice, the swab is removed before being securely placed inside a sample container.

Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Weibo social media platform reacted to the method with a mix of mirth and horror.

‘So lucky I returned to China earlier,’ one user wrote.

‘Low harm, but extreme humiliation,’ another said, using a laughing emoticon.

Others who had undergone the procedure chimed in with dark humour.

‘I’ve done two anal swabs, every time I did one I had to do a throat swab afterwards – I was so scared the nurse would forget to use a new swab,’ one Weibo user joked.

But the accuracy and efficiency of anal swabs remain controversial among experts.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media Global Times that the nasal and throat swabs remain the most efficient test as the virus is proven to be contracted via one’s upper respiratory tract rather than the digestive system.

‘There have been cases concerning the coronavirus testing positive in a patient’s excrement, but no evidence has suggested it had been transmitted through one’s digestive system,’ Yang said.  

As cases rise around the world, China has imposed stricter requirements on international arrivals in an effort to keep domestic transmission close to zero.

The country has also tightened restrictions domestically, with Beijing announcing that people from medium- or high-risk areas will be barred from the city from Thursday to reduce the risk of virus transmission over the Lunar New Year period.

Meanwhile, arrivals into the country must have multiple negative test results and quarantine for at least 14 days in a designated hotel on arrival, with many cities and regions imposing additional home observation requirements.

As of Wednesday, China has reported a total of 89,272 confirmed infections. Its death toll rose by one to 4,636 following an additional fatality on Monday. 

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