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Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Wednesday ramped up his call for the State Department to investigate China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic following a report that the Chinese Communist Party concealed the extent of the outbreak and underreported the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country.
“Even before news of this report was released it was clear that the Chinese Communist Party is not a trustworthy partner in the fight against COVID-19,” McCaul said in a statement. “They lied to the world about the human to human transmission of the virus, silenced doctors and journalists who tried to report the truth, and are now apparently hiding the accurate number of people impacted by this disease.”
The outbreak began in China’s Hubei province -- specifically in the city of Wuhan -- in late 2019 and has resulted in about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths in the country, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has reported more than 206,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths.
But McCaul and other critics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believe that Beijing has grossly downplayed the numbers to protect their control over the country.
“I asked the State Department last week to open a multilateral investigation into the CCP’s initial cover-up and subsequent actions regarding this pandemic,” McCaul said. “We must stop the CCP from causing further damage amid this pandemic that they allowed to fester and then spill out into the world.”
McCaul has also sent a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) to express his concerns about what he calls “unsanitary practices” at some of these Chinese Communist Party-sanctioned wildlife markets. It is believed that the novel coronavirus now affecting the globe was first transmitted to humans at a meat market in Wuhan.
“It is completely unacceptable for a developed and technologically sophisticated country such as China -- with deep connections to global commerce and travel -- to continue these types of markets in an unsanitary manner,” McCaul said in his letter.
Skepticism about China's numbers has swirled throughout the crisis, fueled by official efforts to quash bad news in the early days and a general distrust of the government. Long lines of people waiting to collect the ashes of loved ones at funeral homes last week revived the debate.
There is no smoking gun pointing to a cover-up by China's ruling Communist Party. But intentional or not, there is reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the official tally, which stood at 3,312 at the end of Tuesday. The same applies to the 81,554 confirmed cases, now exceeded by the U.S., Italy and Spain.
"I think the medical community interpreted the Chinese data as this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data.” Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said Tuesday.
The health system in Wuhan, the city where three-fourths of China's victims died, was overwhelmed at the peak of the outbreak. Hospitals overflowed, patients with symptoms were sent home and there weren't enough kits to test everyone. In any country, getting a complete picture in the fog of war is virtually impossible.
Seventeen years ago, China tried to cover up the extent of the SARS outbreak, another coronavirus that spread beyond its borders. The government is being far more open this time, but it can't shake the distrust at home and abroad.
“The Chinese government has been taking an open, transparent and responsible attitude all along and publishing the latest figures to the world every day," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday.
China is now playing up the efforts of the Communist Party and the sacrifices of medical workers to tackle the crisis, while suppressing reports about hospital overcrowding and reprimanding medical workers for rumor-mongering after they tried to raise the alarm about the emergence of a possible new disease.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.