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China Hails Its Virus Triumphs, and Glosses Over Its Mistakes

Trying to win a propaganda tug of war, Beijing staunchly defended its actions, saying it didn’t hide the emergence of the outbreak.

Medical staff celebrated after all patients were discharged at a temporary hospital in Wuhan, China, in March.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIJING — Under continued fire for its early mishandling of the coronavirus, the Chinese government vigorously defended its actions in a new, detailed account on Sunday that portrays the country’s approach to combating the outbreak as a model for the world.

Calling the epidemic a “test of fire,” Beijing builds a comprehensive picture of its “painstaking efforts” to identify the virus, stop its spread and warn other countries — a narrative that discounts and ignores missteps by the government at the outset of the outbreak.

In the report, local and provincial officials are described as acting decisively. The World Health Organization is said to have been kept informed in detail starting from Jan. 3, while Chinese scientists quickly released the genome sequence. China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, is described as playing a pivotal role throughout the crisis.

“Confronted by this virus, the Chinese people have joined together as one and united their efforts,” the report said. “They have succeeded in containing the spread of the virus. In this battle, China will always stand together with other countries.”

Like much of China’s state propaganda on the coronavirus, the report provides a sanitized version of events, leaving out political and bureaucratic problems that exacerbated the crisis when it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

ImageOutside a hospital in January in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began.
Outside a hospital in January in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began.Credit...Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

There is no mention of the doctor who was reprimanded by the police for raising an early alarm about the virus or the young Chinese bloggers who were taken into custody after creating videos of the suffering in Wuhan.

There is no discussion of local officials’ delays in reporting cases and underplaying the outbreak, or their subsequent firings. Officials instead are lauded for dedicating themselves to defeating the virus in the report, which speaks of “an effective and well-functioning, whole-of-the-nation control mechanism.”

The report offers no new information on the origins of the virus. In a news conference on Sunday, a top Chinese official dismissed accusations about Beijing’s conduct as “completely unwarranted and unreasonable,” an apparent reference to numerous accusations by the Trump administration that China is to blame for the pandemic.

China has much at stake in global perceptions of its actions. Whether China is pilloried or praised could have a big effect on Beijing’s world standing in the months and years ahead and its ability to continue playing an ever more assertive role in international organizations and in geopolitical affairs.

Image
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, seen on a billboard, is described in the report as playing a pivotal role throughout the pandemic.Credit...Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Chinese government put its full propaganda muscle behind the report. Three ministers, two vice ministers and the president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences held a joint news conference to release it on Sunday morning at the State Council Information Office, an elite propaganda agency.

Xu Lin, the minister who oversees the office, characterized China’s handling of the disease in heroic terms. “China’s fight against Covid-19 is extraordinary and should be remembered forever,” he said.

As the United States and other countries struggle to bring their outbreaks under control, China has largely returned to normal life. Its last remaining high-risk area, a district in the northeastern city of Jilin, lowered its epidemic response level on Sunday. The city of Beijing gave permission on Friday for people to stop wearing masks when outdoors and well separated.

The government reported six new cases across the country on Sunday. Five originated abroad, and one was said to have been transmitted locally in the southern island province of Hainan.

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A restaurant in Beijing last month. China has largely returned to normal life.Credit...Wu Hong/EPA, via Shutterstock

Since the outbreak began, the Chinese mainland has recorded more than 89,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths. By contrast, the United States has confirmed almost two million cases and nearly 110,000 deaths.

Ma Zhaoxu, vice minister of foreign affairs, complained bitterly about foreign criticisms of China’s handling of the coronavirus. Critics “went all out to smear and slander China — this is spreading a political virus, and in responding to such politicized practices, China, of course, will push back resolutely,” he said.

As evidence of China’s transparency, Mr. Xu said that 480 journalists from state news media had risked infection by reporting from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei Province. In his only hint that China may have had any difficulties in handling the epidemic, he said, “They have also uncovered some issues and pressed for their solution.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


The report also highlights its cooperation with the United States.

It notes that the heads of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its Chinese equivalent spoke to each other by phone on Jan. 4 and again four days later. In the first call, the Chinese official briefed his American counterpart about the new pneumonia, the report said, adding, “The two sides agreed to keep in close contact on information sharing and cooperation on technical matters.”

Ma Xiaowei, the minister who oversees the National Health Commission, said on Sunday that China had not covered up the epidemic. “We have not delayed in any way” the release of information, he said.

But he indicated that China was stepping up preparations to make sure that it would catch any future outbreak of disease quickly. “We shall also develop a smart early-warning system with multiple triggers,” he said. He did not explain how the existing early-warning system, put in place after the SARS crisis in late 2002 and early 2003, mostly failed during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Checking body temperature of a resident at the entrance of a residental area in Jilin, China’s last remaining high-risk area.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The news conference on Sunday underlined how completely Mr. Xi has consolidated his power.

China’s top leader said little publicly in the early days of the outbreak and made a state visit to neighboring Myanmar in mid-January as the virus spread swiftly through Wuhan. He sent Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s second-highest official, to Wuhan soon after that city’s lockdown began, on Jan. 23, and put him in charge of handling the government’s response.

But the new report barely mentions the premier, while Mr. Xi was praised at length. He is described in often martial terms as a resolute commander in combat, making important decisions every week and sometimes every day.

As in an earlier account, the report indicates that the Chinese leader was engaged in the fight against the outbreak since Jan. 7, but offers little further details on his role back then. Toward the end of February, Mr. Xi “called for a greater effort to marshal the resources of the whole country to reinforce Wuhan and Hubei,” it says. Two months later, he said the country had “won a vital battle in defending Wuhan and Hubei against the novel coronavirus, and achieved a major strategic success in the nationwide control efforts.”

Mr. Xi “made key decisions at critical moments and led the Chinese people in an all-out fight,” Mr. Xu said.

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Summary | 35 Annotations
staunchly defended its actions
2020/06/09 03:52
vigorously defended its actions
2020/06/09 03:54
painstaking efforts
2020/06/09 03:55
discounts and ignores missteps
2020/06/09 03:56
acting decisively.
2020/06/09 03:57
playing a pivotal role throughout the crisis
2020/06/09 03:58
containing the spread of the virus
2020/06/09 03:59
provides a sanitized version of events
2020/06/09 04:01
leaving out
2020/06/09 04:01
exacerbated the crisis
2020/06/09 04:02
were taken into custody
2020/06/09 04:03
was reprimanded by
2020/06/09 04:04
underplaying the outbreak
2020/06/09 04:05
subsequent firings
2020/06/09 04:06
dismissed accusations
2020/06/09 04:07
completely unwarranted
2020/06/09 04:08
an apparent reference to
2020/06/09 04:08
has much at stake
2020/06/09 04:10
playing an ever more assertive role
2020/06/09 08:17
put its full propaganda muscle
2020/06/09 08:20
characterized China’s handling of the disease in heroic terms.
2020/06/09 08:20
lowered its epidemic response level
2020/06/09 08:22
returned to normal life
2020/06/09 08:22
b
2020/06/09 08:22
bring their outbreaks under control
2020/06/09 08:22
largely
2020/06/09 08:22
wearing masks
2020/06/09 08:22
By contrast
2020/06/09 08:23
went all out to smear and slander China
2020/06/09 08:25
push back resolutely
2020/06/09 08:25
epicenter of the outbreak
2020/06/09 08:28
uncovered some issues and pressed for their solution
2020/06/09 08:28
stepping up preparations
2020/06/09 08:57
catch any future outbreak of disease quickly
2020/06/09 08:57
put in place
2020/06/09 08:58