Health Minister Patty Hajdu has once again defended Beijing’s conduct regarding the pandemic, saying on Sept. 13 that China was quick to share details about the virus, and dismissed reports of Beijing not being forthcoming with data.
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“Look, very early on China alerted the World Health Organization to the emergence of a novel coronavirus and also shared the sequencing of the gene which allowed countries to be able to rapidly produce tests to be able to detect it in their own countries,” Hajdu told Global News.
Here’s a look at Beijing’s response to the virus outbreak in the early days, its crackdown on whistleblowers, WHO’s response, Canada’s reliance on WHO, reactions from world leaders, and comments made by Canadian officials as the pandemic unfolded.
Early Developments in China and Coverups
Nov. 17: First person is infected, according to SCMP citing government documents.
Dec. 1: Earliest documented patient is infected.
Mid-December: First evidence appears of human-to-human transmission, a Jan. 29 study says.
Dec. 27: A Chinese laboratory sequences most of the virus genome.
Dec. 31: China officially informs the public about cases of a “viral pneumonia” via a press release by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. Taiwan sends an email to WHO pointing out signs of the human-to-human transmission of the virus, and asks for more information. It later says the organization ignored its request.
Jan. 2: A Wuhan virology lab obtains the full virus genome. This information isn’t made public for over a week.
Jan. 3: China’s National Health Commission tells regional health commissions to strengthen precautions for “the prevention and control of a major sudden outbreak of infectious diseases,” leaked documents show.
Jan. 11: China makes the genome of the virus public.
Jan. 14: Chinese officials determine that they are likely facing a pandemic, but don’t make the information public, internal documents reported by Associated Press show.
Jan. 15: Publicly, Chinese officials say the risk of human-to-human infection is low. An internal document obtained by The Epoch Times shows health officials knew of human-to-human infection risk and were preparing for it.
Jan. 18: Local government in Wuhan allows 40,000 families to gather to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Jan. 20: China officially confirms that the virus can be transmitted between humans.
Jan. 23: Wuhan imposes a lockdown. By then, around 5 million people had left the city without being screened for the virus. But international travel was allowed from Wuhan to the rest of the world.
Jan. 27: Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang concedes that disclosures of the outbreak were not timely, shifts blame to the central government.
China’s Response to Whistleblowers and Containment of Information
Dr. Li Wenliang and Early Detentions
Dec. 30: Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan shares a report about China’s lab sequencing of the virus on Dec. 27 with other colleagues on social media. Later that day, Wuhan Central Hospital warns health workers not to spread information about the “unknown pneumonia” or face penalties.
Jan. 3: Li is called in by local police and reprimanded for “rumourmongering.” On the same day, eight other individuals are also detained for talking about the disease.
Feb. 6: Blogger Chen Qiushi who was filming hospitals is “disappeared.”
Feb. 9: Citizen journalist Fango Bin who shared footage of hospitals is detained.
Feb. 15: Rights activist Xu Zhiyong is arrested after calling for the Chinese leader to resign over the coverup of the virus.
Feb. 16: Academic Xu Zhangrun is put under house arrest after criticizing Beijing’s response to the outbreak.
Feb. 26: Citizen journalist Li Zehua is arrested for reporting on the outbreak.
Stopping Tests and Censorship
Jan. 1: A Hubei genomics company is told by authorities to stop testing virus samples and to destroy all existing samples.
Jan. 3: The National Health Commission tells researchers to hand over virus samples or destroy them.
Feb. 15: Chinese leader Xi Jinping calls for more control on online discussions on the virus, state media report.
Feb. 19: Three Wall Street Journal reporters are told to leave China after the paper runs an op-ed that isn’t favourable to Beijing.
March 17: At least 13 journalists at The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post are told to leave China.
Sept. 7: Two Australian reporters flee China.
Timeline of Developments and Canada’s Response
Jan. 9: The World Health Organization (WHO) advises against any travel or trade restrictions on China.
Jan. 14: WHO says Chinese authorities had found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission, while noting “limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families” is possible. Leaked internal documents issued on Jan. 14 later show Chinese officials knew they were likely facing a pandemic.
Jan. 21: First case of infection is reported in Taiwan. The government changes border control procedures. People travelling from high-risk areas undergo mandatory quarantine at home for 14 days. Government announces a ban on the export of face masks.
Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirms there are no plans to impose travel restrictions on China.
Jan. 22: Canada announces passengers arriving at major airports will undergo additional questioning to find out if they have travelled to Wuhan. People showing symptoms are asked to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days.
Jan. 25: Canada’s first case of infection is reported in a man in Toronto who had recently travelled to Wuhan.
Jan. 29: Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, reiterates that WHO doesn’t recommend travel bans, adding: “We are a signatory to the international health regulations and we’ll be called to account if we do anything different.” Tam also praises China for its handling of the outbreak: “What we have seen, given my close communication with WHO, is how impressed they are by the work of China. The astoundingly rapid way in which they tried to get a handle on what is causing the outbreak, and giving the world the sequence of the virus, was very helpful.”
Jan. 30: WHO declares the outbreak a global health emergency. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says WHO “opposes any restrictions for travel and trade or other measures against China,” while also praising China for its response to the outbreak.
Feb. 3: A spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry praises Canada for not imposing travel restrictions on China, while rebuking the United States for its travel restrictions.
Feb. 4: Senior WHO expert John Mackenzie breaks rank and accuses China of not reporting virus cases fast enough in the early stages, saying the country’s response was “reprehensible.”
Feb. 5: Canada’s ambassador to China Dominic Barton commends China for what it’s “doing in trying to contain” the virus.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Tam reiterates that “WHO advises against any kind of travel and trade restrictions.” She advises against measures “that very negatively affect a country that’s trying very hard to do its best,” saying it could impact whether China would cooperate in the future. “China posted the virus genome very quickly. What are they getting out of it? I think the idea is to support China,” she says.
Feb. 6: Over 50 countries, including Taiwan, Australia, and the United States have announced travel restrictions on China.
A Chinese regime spokesperson lashes out at countries restricting travel over the outbreak, saying “we deplore and oppose those countries who went against WHO’s professional recommendations.”
Feb. 9: Foreign Affairs announces that Canada has shipped 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to China.
Feb. 11: An internal Foreign Affairs document says, “China is making all-encompassing efforts on mobilization and deployment for epidemic control.”
Feb. 17: Canadian Health Minister Hajdu says, “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.”
Feb. 22: An internal Foreign Affairs document shows speaking points for Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs François- Philippe Champagne to be delivered at a luncheon with the Asia-Pacific Heads of Mission. It reads: “Here I would like to recognize the tremendous burden on China, which is fighting to maintain public health and is making a tremendous effort to contain the epidemic from spreading.”
An undated document from Foreign Affairs released in February along with other documents, shows speaking notes for minister Champagne for a phone call with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi that say, “Impressed by efforts deployed to contain the outbreak and the transparent approach taken by China thus far.”
Feb. 25: Canada’s Health Minister Hajdu tells parliamentarians that Canada has been “following the World Health Organization recommendations since we noticed the cluster in late December.”
Feb. 29: WHO reiterates that it advises “against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.”
March 12: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian says the virus was brought to China by the U.S. military. U.S. summon the Chinese ambassador over the conspiracy theory.
March 13: A study by the University of Southampton says if China had responded to the outbreak three weeks earlier than it did, COVID-19 cases
could have been reduced by 95 percent.
Canadian Health Minister Hajdu says border measures are “highly ineffective.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, “A number of weeks ago, in the beginnings, there was discussions on whether or not we should entirely close our borders to China the way the United States did. We did not, and we were able to manage it in a way that allowed for control and non-spread of the virus. That gives us confidence that our public health officials are giving us the right recommendations for Canada.”
March 17: WHO Director Tedros writes to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, praising Xi’s “extraordinary leadership and China’s incredible efforts in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 situation,” according to China’s ministry of foreign affairs.
March 18: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Chinese Communist Party covered up details about the virus outbreak, warning that a similar situation could unfold again “if we don’t get to the bottom of this.”
March 16-18: Canada announces severe restrictions on international flights and U.S. border crossing.
March 26: Chinese leader Xi replies to WHO Director Tedros, saying he appreciates his efforts promoting “China’s readiness to continue its support for the global response to the outbreak.”
March 29: British media report that scientists have told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that China could have downplayed its number of infections by a factor of 15 to 40 times. The media report that the U.K. government is “furious” over China’s behaviour.
April 1: A classified intelligence report submitted to the White House says the Chinese regime has concealed the extent of the virus outbreak in China, under-reporting the number of cases and deaths, Bloomberg reports.
April 2: Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso says WHO should be renamed “Chinese Health Organization.”
Canadian Health Minister Hajdu says Ottawa has no reason to believe Beijing’s infection and death rates are falsified, and adds that Canada relies on WHO to coordinate the collection of data from various countries. When a reporter asks whether WHO’s numbers can be trusted if China’s aren’t reliable, she accuses the reporter of fuelling conspiracy theories.
April 7: U.S. President Donald Trump criticizes the WHO for being “too China-centric.”
April 10: Beijing defends WHO’s Tedros in his confrontation with Taiwan, which is excluded from WHO. Beijing considers the self-ruled island part of China’s territory.
April 16: British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab says China has to answer hard questions on how the virus outbreak happened and whether it could have been prevented.
French President Emmanuel Macron says it is “naïve” to say China has done better than other countries in handling the virus crisis.
April 17: Amid other countries raising concerns about China’s handling of the virus, Trudeau says now is not the time to raise questions about other countries’ management of the pandemic, and evades questions from reporters on whether China has concealed the extent of the pandemic.
April 18: Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne calls for a global inquiry on the spread of COVID-19, and says the WHO should stay out of the inquiry. A day later, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all members of the WHO should support an independent review.
April 21: WHO’s Tedros doubles down on his denial that Taiwan had sent warnings about possible human-to-human transmission of the new virus on Dec. 31.
April 29: In response to a question from an MP if she trusts data coming out of China, Canadian Health Minister Hajdu says data gathering is a challenge for all countries. She again praises China’s response to the pandemic: “The extent to which China tried to contain the outbreak from spreading to other countries was noted by public health officials across the world as extraordinary.”
April 30: Sweden’s Health Minister Lena Hallengren says an independent investigation needs to be conducted about the origin and spread of the virus.
May 3: U.S. intelligence documents show that U.S. officials believe China initially covered up the extent of the outbreak to stock up medical supplies, Associated Press reports.
May 12: Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau says the first Canadian trials of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine have been approved by Health Canada. The vaccine is developed by a Chinese company in collaboration with the Chinese military.
Early May: More countries, including Australia, Germany, as well as the European Commission, call for probes into the origins of the virus.
May 13: An Angus Reid poll shows Canadians’ views toward China at a new low, with only 14 percent saying they have a positive view of China.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau changes his response on China’s need to answer for the pandemic: “I think it’s clear there are many questions for countries around the origins and behaviour in early days around the COVID-19 situation, particularly questions for China.”
May 14: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticizes China’s handling of the pandemic, saying Beijing must face a “great reckoning” for how it contributed to the spread of the pandemic. “The fact that China allowed people to fly around the world from Wuhan even when they blocked Wuhanese travellers from the rest of China must never be forgotten. The role they played in suppressing whistle-blowing scientists who as early as December were reporting human to human transmission.”
In response to a question from an MP on China’s role in the pandemic, Canadian Health Minister Hajdu avoids mentioning China: “I think, as our government has been very clear, a post-pandemic review of all of the actors, including Canada, will be an important part of how we assess the world’s response to this pandemic.”
May 15: After China imposes trade blockades against Australia for its criticism of Beijing’s handling of the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, “We are standing our ground on our values and the things that we know are always important.
May 18: U.S. Secretary of Health Alex Azar slams WHO for its handling of the pandemic, saying that the organization had cost “many lives.” He said: “There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed.”
Canadian Minister of International Development Karina Gould says it is not WHO’s place to question information provided by China, in an interview with CBC.
May 20: U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo dismisses claims by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that China acted with openness and transparency, saying Beijing withheld virus samples and access to facilities.
May 21: In response to a question from an MP on whether she supports an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, Hajdu again avoids mentioning China: “There is an imperative that we have a review not only of the international response to the outbreak of COVID-19 but also our own country’s response.”
June 8: U.S. chief medical officer Dr. Anthony Fauci criticizes China for its lack of transparency in handling the outbreak and for silencing scientists.
July 22: British media report that U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo told U.K. politicians that WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been “bought” by China.
Aug. 26: Canadian clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine are scrapped after Chinese authorities hold up shipments of the vaccine to Canada.
Sept. 13: In an interview with Global News, responding to a question on when she had dismissed a reporters’ question on whether China was underreporting infection cases as a conspiracy theory, Canadian Health Minister Hajdu again defends China’s handling of the pandemic. “Look, very early on China alerted the World Health Organization to the emergence of a novel coronavirus and also shared the sequencing of the gene which allowed countries to be able to rapidly produce tests to be able to detect it in their own countries,” she says.