The White House doesn’t trust China’s coronavirus numbers — here’s why

  • The coronavirus that emerged from China’s Hubei province over a month ago and has spread to two dozen countries is already fueling mistrust from the U.S. government on whether China can provide accurate information.
  • U.S. mistrust of China goes as far back as the 1950s, when national authorities set unrealistic production quotas that led local officials to inflate data.

The coronavirus that emerged from China’s Hubei province over a month ago and has spread to two dozen countries is already fueling mistrust from the U.S. government on whether China can provide accurate information about the epidemic.

The White House said this week it does “not have high confidence in the information coming out of China” regarding the count of coronavirus cases, a senior administration official told CNBC. Meanwhile, China has reportedly been reluctant to accept help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has reportedly suppressed information about the outbreak from scientists that it deems alarming.

U.S. officials’ mistrust of China goes as far back as the 1950s, when national authorities set unrealistic production quotas that led local officials to inflate data. Mishaps with the 2003 outbreak of SARS, which sickened 8,098 people and killed about 800 over nine months, and discrepancies in reporting of economic data over the past two decades has only hardened the U.S. government’s belief that China cannot be trusted, experts say. White House advisor Peter Navarro has even called China a “disease incubator.”

Since emerging from the city of Wuhan, the new virus has spread from about 300 people as of mid-January to more than 64,000 as of Friday — with the number of new cases growing by the thousands every day. World health officials say China’s response to the virus is an improvement from past outbreaks. China has been more transparent, World Health Organization officials told reporters this week. Chinese health authorities quickly isolated the virus’ genetic sequence and shared it on a public database in a matter of weeks, they said, giving scientists a chance to identify it.

A WHO-led team of 12 international experts are expected to arrive in China this weekend to collaborate with Chinese counterparts, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday. But praise from the WHO has not kept top U.S. officials from criticizing China’s handling of the outbreak. On Thursday, White House top economic advisor Larry Kudlow told reporters the U.S. is “quite disappointed,” citing a lack of transparency. Such criticism is far from new.

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