WUHAN, CHINA – The World Health Organization let the world breathe a quick sigh of relief on January 14th, 2020 when they told the world there’s nothing to worry about with the Wuhan based 2019-nCoV, which at the time wasn’t even nicknamed COVID-19. It turns out, authorities in China wanted to let the world know the virus wasn’t spreading from person to person.
A tweet by the WHO on their Twitter page on January 14th, 2020 read as follows: Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #ChinaFlag of China.
According to a story in Business Insider, China knew the virus had the potential to be a pandemic within its government, but told the world that they found no evidence of that publicly.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
“For six days in mid-January, China knew the novel coronavirus could become a deadly pandemic while it told the world there was nothing to fear, according to an Associated Press report published Wednesday,” Business Insider wrote in April.
It turns out the WHO also had an idea that transmission between humans was possible, evidenced in a report by The Guardian.
It wasn’t until January 22nd that the World Health Organization convened to break the real news to the public. The decision to keep the seriousness of the virus from the world was made for political reasons. The WHO did not want to create a global panic ahead of an impending pandemic.
“If the human-to-human transmission was only happening in close quarters, in families, or between patients and health workers, then perhaps it could be largely contained without a worldwide alert, and all the global economic disruption that entailed. If the virus was spreading freely among communities, there was not a moment to lose,” the WHO thought.
The meeting of world experts on January 22nd at the WHO was split right down the middle. The WHO did not want to make a declaration on the COVID-19 virus without unanimous consent from the experts, but they didn’t have it.
President Donald J. Trump used the agency’s COVID-19 dysfunctionality as one of the reasons why he cut funding and withdrew the United States from the accord.
Still, with the world’s health leaders split down the middle, China was still urging the WHO to not declare an emergency. It was not until a week later that the WHO issued what is known as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” or PHEIC.
On January 30th, the WHO broke the news to the world about COVID-19, three weeks after it knew that the virus was indeed spreading from human to human, normally in close confines through airborne droplets and prolonged exposure.
“The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak. China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools,” the report read on January 22nd.
The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the front lines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success. In line with the need for global solidarity, the Committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support for that.
“It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoVinfection, and to share full data with WHO,” the statement read. By this time, is suggested that COVID-19 had already started to spread beyond the borders of China.
The WHO at that time, also did not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available. In fact, the WHO at this time warned countries not to interrupt or interfere with international travel and traffic.
“Under Article 43 of the IHR, States Parties implementing additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic (refusal of entry or departure of international travellers, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods, and the like, or their delay, for more than 24 hours) are obliged to send to WHO the public health rationale and justification within 48 hours of their implementation. WHO will review the justification and may request countries to reconsider their measures. WHO is required to share with other States Parties the information about measures and the justification received,” the WHO said in the statement.
One year later, one thing is clear, the World Health Organization got it all wrong in the early days of COVID-19. For three weeks, bureaucracy, red tape and politics kept a cautious lid on the extent of the growing COVID-19 epidemic in China. Pundits can argue all day long as to whether those three weeks would have made any difference in the final outcome of what became a global pandemic.
In one year’s time, SARS-CoV-2, or as we call it today, COVID-19 infected nearly 100 million people and killed over 2 million, not counting the countless millions of survivors with debilitating chronic after effects, many of which have lingered for months after those patients beat the virus.
One week later, a video emerged, confirmed by the AP and other mainstream news sources that showed Chinese health officials forcibly removing COVID-19 infected residents from their homes and into mandatory quarantine.