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Questioning WHO and China virus data feeds conspiracy theories: Health Minister

Liberal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who has previously praised the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of COVID-19 outbreak, derides classified U.S. intelligence reported by Bloomberg

Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu says questioning COVID-19 infection data from the World Health Organization and China is tantamount to peddling conspiracy theories.

Hajdu faced questions from media Thursday in Ottawa. She was asked for her thoughts on whether WHO data — which is derived from individual countries — can be trusted given a report yesterday from Bloomberg citing a classified U.S. intelligence paper claiming China has concealed the extent of its outbreak.

“I would say your question is feeding into conspiracy theories that many people have been perpetuating on the internet,” said Hajdu. “It’s important to remember that there is no way to beat a global pandemic if we’re actually not willing to work together as a globe. We will have to come up with a global solution to this virus; no country is an island.”

Hajdu said Canada does not rely on data from one country; it relies on data from the WHO. But the WHO relies on data provided by each country.

“There is no indication the data that came out of China in terms of their death rate and infection rate was falsified in any way,” said Hajdu, dismissing the Bloomberg report, which states: “China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, according to three U.S. officials.”

China’s new reported cases of COVID-19 have nearly disappeared since March 1, and the country reports only 2,004 active cases of COVID-19. Last month China expelled American journalists, including from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

Hajdu has previously taken a pro-Beijing stance since China initially released information to the WHO on an unknown pneumonia on December 31.

On February 17, she came to Vancouver to meet B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and addressed worries of discrimination and online misinformation against the Chinese community while also promoting the need for people to still eat out at Chinese restaurants. Hajdu fielded questions about why Canada hadn’t closed its airports to flights from China.

“I understand that there are some voices that would say we should shut down the border to China But I would say Canada is following expert advice from the World Health Organization.”

Hajdu said border closures are not effective. 

“Imagine now if countries were to suspect that if they had an outbreak the border would get closed, there would be sanctions economically and all of a sudden that transparency that the world relies on in order to defeat viruses…imagine if countries stopped sharing that information; we would in a global health sense be in a bit of a pickle, if you will.”

And, she backed the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the outbreak.

“China has been very open. Now some will say, ‘Were they open enough?’ and ‘How fast were they open?’ But what we know is that within a week or so they were letting the World Health Organization and therefore all of the partner countries know that they had an outbreak on their hands.”

But Taiwanese officials raised similar concerns reported by U.S. intelligence officials to Bloomberg in early January.

After China announced its outbreak of an unknown pneumonia December 31, Taiwan sent a team of fact-finding researchers to Wuhan in Hubei province.

But, “They [Chinese officials] didn’t let us see what they didn’t want us to see, but our experts sensed the situation was not optimistic,” Taiwan government spokesperson Kolas Yotaka told NBC News.

Taiwan, according to several reputable media reports, immediately took swift action to prevent the spread and shut down its borders to China. It has also taken stiff measures against civil liberties to conduct contact tracing and enforce isolation. However, the country, which the WHO does not acknowledge for political reasons, has been hailed by many as a success story in preventing the spread of the out of control virus.

WHO politics also came front and centre in Canada this week, when Canadian Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO adviser, declined to discuss Taiwan’s pandemic response with media because he had “already talked about China.”

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