WASHINGTON — President Trump continued on Wednesday to search for parties to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, once again pointing fingers at the World Health Organization but also castigating China for deceiving the rest of the world about the scope of the outbreak.
“Do you think you’re getting honest numbers from some of these countries?” Trump wondered at one point during the day’s briefing of the White House coronavirus task force. “Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China? And that they have a certain number of cases, a certain number of deaths: Does anyone really believe that?”
The official coronavirus statistics for China include 83,356 infections and 3,346 deaths, the majority of both in Hubei province, where the virus appears to have originated in a wet market. Aggressive lockdown measures surrounding the pandemic’s epicenter in the city of Wuhan have been credited with ending the outbreak in China, so much so that life is returning to normal even in Wuhan itself.
Yet some suspect China has not been truthful about the scope of the epidemic. Even the World Health Organization could not say, in its report on the outbreak, how many people were tested for the coronavirus outside the Guangdong province. Chinese journalists investigating the outbreak have gone missing.
Trump had previously called the disease “the Chinese virus,” but later backed off that terminology, which many deemed racist. He has significant reasons not to offend China’s leaders, since the U.S. is importing medical supplies from China to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, and Beijing recently agreed to buy $200 billion in American goods. That deal put an end to a ruinous trade war between the two nations.
Even so, a bellicose attitude toward China remains just under the surface. Among the first to issue warnings about the virus was Peter Navarro, a White House economic adviser who is known as an unapologetic critic of China. And former White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon has been flaying the nation on “War Room: Pandemic,” a podcast he hosts with Jason Miller, a 2016 Trump campaign veteran.
“The Chinese government has lied at every step in this pandemic,” Miller told Yahoo News on Wednesday evening. “In fact, this outbreak might not have even reached pandemic proportions if the Chinese Communist Party hadn’t lied and covered up the coronavirus.”
Even if the worst of the pandemic in China has passed, scrutiny of how the virus was handled there remains. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Beijing waited six days to warn the Chinese population that a deadly virus had been let loose on the nation, which recalled the hesitation and prevarication that marked the Kremlin’s response to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986.
Writing recently in the Atlantic, former deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow argued that China “has played a particularly harmful role in the current crisis,” enumerating the various ways in which China downplayed the outbreak.
Trump has also at various points minimized the severity of the disease, finally grasping the seriousness of the outbreak last month. About 28,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. That is about nine times the fatalities in China, if the statistics emanating from Beijing are indeed accurate.
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