Coronavirus: Critics ask why China allowed flights out of Hubei during outbreak

Women with face masks enjoy their bubble tea at a shopping complex in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak. (File photo: Reuters)

China may have allowed the new coronavirus to spread across the world by allowing international flights to and from Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, while taking stronger measures to ensure the virus didn’t spread within China, according to the latest criticism of the country’s handling of the outbreak.

The ruling Communist party in China has previously been accused of underreporting cases and not communicating swiftly enough with the global community vital information about the virus, which first emerged in Wuhan in December 2019, including what the party knew about human-to-human transmission and just how fast it spread.

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Now, critics have also suggested that China is partly to blame for the virus spreading globally because it continued to allow flights to Hubei for its own interests – while taking greater action to stop the spread within China.

Addressing China’s President Xi Jinping directly, historian Niall Ferguson wrote in an op-ed: “... after it became clear that there was a full-blown epidemic spreading from Wuhan to the rest of Hubei province, why did you cut off travel from Hubei to the rest of China – on January 23 – but not from Hubei to the rest of the world?”

Ferguson’s accusations refer to China continuing to allow international travel long past January 23, the date when it imposed serious restrictions on travel within China in an attempt to quarantine Wuhan from the rest of the country.

On February 4, the Civil Aviation Administration of China requested that local airlines keep operating international flights to countries that hadn’t imposed restrictions on inbound travel, according to Reuters.

Behind the US, China is the world’s second-largest air travel market.

By early February, airlines around the world had cut flights to China, setting off economic shocks in the industry and stranding travelers. Infections climbed past 17,000 in over 20 countries by February 3.

Throughout January and February, China imposed lockdowns on its cities as the virus spread internally, but continued to allow international travel abroad.

It was only on March 27, by which point the coronavirus had become a global pandemic, that China barred foreign visitors from entering the country – after it began to report more cases of the virus being imported from abroad than were emerging domestically. It also limited Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, and flights had to be not more than 75 percent full, the BBC reported.

Faulty medical equipment, incomplete information

China has also been criticized for distributing faulty medical equipment to other countries and suppressing or providing incomplete information about the virus to other countries.

During the initial outbreak, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was accused of trying to suppress information about the virus. According to critics, it underreported cases and cracked down on the first scientists to go public about the virus.

There was at least one dissenting voice – a doctor tried to sound the alarm – who was silenced by the government. He died in early February from the disease.

More recently, China has begun sending medical equipment to countries hard-hit by the virus as China itself begins a slow recovery. The gesture of goodwill could be an effort by the ruling Communist Party to reshape the narrative.

“China caused this disaster, but now wants to claim the credit for saving us from it. Liberally exporting testing kits (some of which don’t work) and face masks (most of which probably do, but I still got ours from Taiwan, thank you very much), the Chinese government is intent of snatching victory from the jaws of a defeat it inflicted,” said Ferguson.

However, a lot of the equipment China has deployed abroad has since been exposed as faulty. The UK ordered millions of antibody tests from China, but they weren’t able to accurately confirm immunity. Spain also purchased tests from China, and quickly withdrew 58,000 tests from use after discovering they only had a 30 percent accuracy rate.

The Spanish health ministry said it would return the kits, but said the tests had been bought from a supply company in Spain that had purchased them in China and had not directly purchased them from China.

Read more:

Coronavirus: Which countries will re-open first?

Coronavirus: Science and economics collide over how long a lockdown should last

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 10:06 - GMT 07:06
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