China, U.S. Discussed Coronavirus Threat in December – and Failed Us All

Posted in: Headlines
April 16, 2020 7:12 AM UTC

CDC director Robert Redfield says he offered help to the Chinese coronavirus effort back in early January. The Chinese government refused.

  • CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield reveals that he offered China help on the coronavirus effort in early January – but it was refused.
  • Redfield admits learning about the coronavirus in late December, so why did the CDC take so long to start testing?
  • A series of political failures have exacerbated the coronavirus pandemic and killed thousands more than it should have.

Back in late December 2019, a select group of health experts became aware of a new form of pneumonia. What we now know as the coronavirus would go on to ravage the planet, infect millions, and plunge the world into an economic crisis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control director, Dr. Robert Redfield, was one of those experts on early calls with China. According to a new interview, Redfield spoke to colleagues in China about the virus over New Year.

I spent most of the [New Year holiday] on the phone, talking to one of my colleagues, George Gao, who’s my CDC counterpart in China, who was telling me about a new, unspecified pneumonia that they were having out of a market.

The U.S. knew about coronavirus back in December 2019

What is clear from Redfield’s interview is that the U.S. was fully aware of the threat, but did little to address the looming disaster.

China CDC and U.S. CDC had interactions … We had very aggressive interactions at that time.

But here’s where the failings begin. While other countries – like Germany – began testing on a wide scale almost immediately, the CDC failed to ramp up testing.

A medical staff of general practitioners walk to their coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test center set up outside a doctor’s office in a tent at Berlin’s Reinickendorf district, Germany, March 23, 2020. | Source: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

There should be no excuse for this, as Redfield expressly admits to having the information to develop diagnostic tests.

It’s a testament to [China] that within a short period of time they identified a new coronavirus which they basically almost immediately shared online, which allowed us to develop a diagnostic test.

But as the CDC failed to ramp up diagnostics, they even stopped reporting the number of tests in what looked like a major coverup. Others criticized the CDC for waiting too long to sound the alarm and imposing strict criteria on those who could be tested.

The U.S. took too long to react

This dithering at the CDC trickled down in the U.S. government response. And it wasn’t without warning.

In addition to the CDC’s early information, President Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned the White House that millions could die, yet little action was taken until March.

There is an increasing probability of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.

Now we face as many as 100,000 American deaths and up to 18 months of rolling economic shutdowns.

China refused coronavirus help from the U.S.

Another baffling part of the conversation emerged as Redfield claims that China refused offers of help.

I made a direct offer to send a large team to help them answer critical questions. You know: ‘Is there human-human transmission? What’s the R0?’

Redfield said Chinese scientists were eager to collaborate, but politics got in the way.

Scientist to scientist, everyone was on board to facilitate that, but as it escalated its way up the political structure, that offer for me to send a team to help [Gao], which he definitely wanted, just didn’t get approval at the higher levels of government in China.

This is a monumental failure. We already know China tried to silence researchers and hide evidence in the early stages of the outbreak. It’s now clear that they refused assistance from the U.S. too.

Redfield’s interview is heartbreaking to listen to. The CDC knew so much, so early and failed to act fast enough. Worse, major governments refused to come together and help each other.

Blood on all their hands.

This article was edited by Samburaj Das.

Ben Brown @_ben_brown

Ben is a journalist with a decade of experience covering financial markets. Based in London, UK, his writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and he was Chief Editor at Block Explorer, the world's longest-running source of Blockchain data. Reach him at benjamin-brown.uk or on Twitter at _Ben_Brown. Email ben @ benjamin-brown.uk.

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