House Panel Holds First Hearing on Coronavirus Outbreak

February 5, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020
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A congressional hearing aimed at assessing the recent coronavirus outbreak, and the response to it was held on Feb. 5. It’s the first hearing of its kind, as numbers affected by the virus continue to grow, mostly in China.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation heard testimony from three health policy experts, including Jennifer Nuzzo, associate professor and senior scholar from Johns Hopkins University; Jennifer Bouey, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation; and Ron Klain, the former White House Ebola response coordinator.

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening remarks that fighting the virus is a bipartisan initiative. As of Feb. 5, there have been 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with the latest being reported in Wisconsin by state health officials.

“A lot of things in Washington, D.C., are partisan; this is not partisan. We as congress understand how rapidly this is moving,” Bera said. “We also understand that we want to make sure that the administration has all the tools and resources that they need right now.”

Also, on Feb. 5, federal officials announced that laboratories across the United States would receive coronavirus testing kits this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In her testimony, Nuzzo noted that the trajectory of this epidemic is “hard to predict with certainty.” Several major Chinese cities, including Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Zhengzhou, have recently announced new rules to enact partial lockdowns.

“Evidence is mounting each day that it may not be possible to contain this virus,” she said. “What this means is that if it’s not possible to completely stop disease transmission, we must plan for how we will mitigate the impacts of the virus as it spreads.”

Slow Chinese Response

During the hearing, ranking member Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) dedicated a portion of his remarks to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) overall response to the virus.

“The CCP continues to endanger people throughout Asia by using the WHO to advance its political agenda through the exclusion of Taiwan,” he said in his opening remarks. Officials in Taiwan say they are receiving little information from WHO.

Yoho said the Chinese regime has failed to work collaboratively with other nations to fight the virus.

“Despite the severity and infectiousness of this virus, the Chinese government has so far refused to fully cooperate with the global community,” he said. “We hope this is something that does not become politicized.”

Yoho brought up how Chinese scientists were able to share the sequence of the strain with international partners. However, he noted that it only happened after the scientists bypassed government censors.

“So far, China has spurned the help of CDC and refused to provide biological samples to the United States,” he said.

The slow updates of information and assessments from China also do not help response efforts, Yoho said. The Chinese regime is tightening its grip on information about the coronavirus outbreak, as it seeks to control the narrative on the worsening epidemic that has seen daily surges in infection and death numbers.

“[It] not only hurts the credibility of China but also hinders our ability as an international community to prevent the further loss of life and spread of the disease,” he said.

Various courts across China have issued regulations or guidelines clamping down on “spreading rumors” about the illness.

Meanwhile, two jets carrying about 350 Americans fleeing the virus zone in China arrived on Feb. 5 at an Air Force base in Northern California. Officials said 178 of them would be quarantined at a hotel on the base for 14 days while others will be quarantined at a Southern California military base.

Epoch Times reporter Cathy He and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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